Sustainability and the Electronics Industry #3pVOTE

This post is part of our year-end “year in review” sustainable business writing contest. We’ve asked 3p readers to submit their own thoughts about the state of sustainable business in 2010. More information about the contest is available here. All submitted articles will be available on this page. Voting will happen in January!

By Aimee Siegler

In the electronics industry, 2010 has been a year of awakening to the need for corporate social responsibility. There have been drivers from all directions, from the Electronics Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) to Greenpeace to new standards, and all have had an impact on the industry.

The EICC requires its members to not only use the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct, but also to flow the requirements of the code to their suppliers. While the suppliers are not required to join the EICC, the effects of the use of the code will drive change in the supply chain. The code addresses a number of issues from labor and management systems to environment, health & safety and ethics. Some Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) are not only flowing the requirements down to their suppliers, but are requiring their suppliers to flow the requirement to their own suppliers. This broadens the impact of the code in a year that has been filled with headlines like A look inside the Foxconn suicide factory and Inside Foxconn City: A Vast Electronics Factory Under Suicide Scrutiny. More recent news has focused on ethics issues like insider trading.

Greenpeace has also been a driving force with changes to the formula for their Guide to Greener Electronics. One of the factors that is now considered is not just the company’s use of brominated flame retardants and PVC, but whether or not the company lobbies on behalf of Greenpeace’s viewpoint. While my personal opinion is that this is a form of censorship, the fact is this measure has had an impact on the industry and its actions. As nations develop tighter controls on e-waste disposal, the amount of dioxins and furans generated through sub-standard end-of-life processing will decrease over time.

Finally, while the release of ISO 26000, and the pending release of ULE 880, currently in pilot have not yet have the opportunity to have direct impact, they are perhaps a look at things to come. ISO 26000 is an international guidance standard, and will not come with certification. However, there are a lot of activities in motion to help companies implement the standard, from a conference in San Francisco in June, to a survey and consortium hosted by the American Society for Quality in conjunction with IBM. While not specific to the electronics industry, it will have an impact. ULE 880 is industry specific, and will be a comprehensive tool for assessing sustainability in an organization. Slightly different in focus from the Electronics Industry Code of Conduct, the standard covers:

•Sustainability Governance



•Customers and Suppliers

•Social and Community Engagement

With auditors from financial accounting firms, the ULE 880 standard will provide a robust means to assess an organization’s sustainability.

I certainly don’t have a crystal ball to predict what’s next, but I believe that this year’s results bode well for the electronics industry. With 4 companies in the top 10 of Newsweek Green Rankings in 2010 and 8 in the top 20, the electronics industry is moving in the right direction. While some may prefer that we return to the abacus, a tin can, and string, the reality is that the cat is out of the bag. The future is in our hands.

Aimee Siegler is the Global Compliance Manager at Benchmark Electronics and an MBA student at Green Mountain College

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