When it comes to sustainability in the electronics industry, much attention is being paid to e-waste and energy efficiency. However, there is much more to making a sustainable smart product in the 21st century. That's why UL – Underwriters Laboratories – through UL Environment developed the UL 110 standard for mobile phones, tablets and other "smart" products.
The UL ISR 110 standard is points-based and devices that receive the certification must:
Yet, creating a greener product can provide a competitive advantage, as Scot Case, UL Environment director of markets development, explained in a 3p interview. “There are retailers that know their customers want to buy greener products, but they're not positioned to define exactly what a greener product is," Case said. "They need an independent, third-party to help define, develop and implement them.”
Collaboration to define, develop, implement and verify eco labels, certifications and sustainability standards for electronics products across the value chain is key to leveling the commercial playing field.
“A lot of what we do,” UL Environment sustainability scientist Dr. Bill Hoffman said, “revolves around development of multi-attribute standards and technical panels – stakeholder groups representing a variety of different organizations, bringing that collective expertise to bear. There's much more than just our organization involved in order to get the full spectrum of viewpoints and expertise.”
Sprint, for example, worked with UL Environment to define just what a “greener” mobile phone should be. “They turned to us to help define what a sustainable mobile phone is,” Case said. Today, every consumer electronics (CE) device that connects to Sprint's networks has to be UL 110 certified.
Carrying sustainability concepts even further, sustainability certifications and standards now seek to assess the overall sustainability of the entire range of electronics companies' operations and supply chains, as well as the energy used to power them. Consumer electronics industry participants, and society as a whole, even the environment and all living things, stand to benefit as a result.
The rapid pace of innovation, change and obsolescence – planned or unplanned – is another important issue to address when developing and verifying sustainable electronics standards.
“How fast the industry moves is an issue that has to be considered,” Case pointed out. “That's led to a focus on end-of-life and materials sourcing, usage, recycling and reuse, as well as extending the useful life of products through repair and maintenance.
“Certainly all our standards include an end-of-life component. We're having that discussion right now regarding mobile phone standards, which includes how easy they are to repair.
"'Can you extend the lifetime of it?' Issues revolving around collection and reuse – there is a whole series of different issues really that ultimately aim to to maximize use of products and minimize their impacts. Obviously, if you can reuse materials, you save all the materials and energy that would go into building new ones.”
This past May, UL Environment issued its first closed-loop Environmental Claim Validation to Dell. As a result, “Dell's OptiPlex 3030 All-in-One computers are verified to contain a minimum of 10 percent post-consumer closed loop recycled content,” according to a press release.
This specific claim validation, UL Environment explains, “goes beyond a recycled content claim because it involves a closed loop, meaning that plastic from old electronics is being reused to create parts for new computers.”
Such environmental and human health and safety standards provide a vital service to consumers and the broader public, making the invisible visible, Case added:
“There are hidden health, environmental and social impacts associated with cell phones, and these have been addressed in the [UL110] standard. If you look at it, it's very appealing to 'eco geeks,' but it's also very simple for someone like my mom to understand and use.
Image courtesy of UL Environment
An experienced, independent journalist, editor and researcher, Andrew has crisscrossed the globe while reporting on sustainability, corporate social responsibility, social and environmental entrepreneurship, renewable energy, energy efficiency and clean technology. He studied geology at CU, Boulder, has an MBA in finance from Pace University, and completed a certificate program in international governance for biodiversity at UN University in Japan.