Tech companies are standing in the way of stronger green electronics standards in the US, according to a new report by Repair.org. It finds that device manufacturers have systematically blocked attempts to promote longer-lasting, more repairable devices.
Green electronics standards help people identify sustainable products and reward manufacturers that incorporate green designs. New products are scored against environmental performance criteria and are included on the EPEAT registry with a Bronze, Silver, or Gold designation. Eco-minded buyers—including the US government—rely on the EPEAT registry to guide billions of dollars in purchasing.
But manufacturers have been watering down the standards, as detailed in an analysis—Electronics Standards Are In Need of Repair—commissioned by Repair.org. The standards are supposed to be written by a balanced group of volunteer stakeholders, including representatives from major electronics producers. But manufacturers now occupy a large number of seats on the standards boards. They are abusing their position, diluting the standards to meet their existing products instead of designing leadership standards that encourage better products.
Despite overwhelming consensus that extending product lifespans is better for the environment, tech companies have largely blocked efforts to award points for products that are easier to repair, easier to upgrade, and easier to disassemble for recycling.
Instead of leading the way, green standards in the US “have become a complicated way for manufacturers to greenwash products that have a devastating environmental impact and pat themselves on the back for business as usual,” the report concludes.
A full copy of the report is available at https://repair.org/standards
Manufacturers and other IT industry members—including chemical and plastics trade groups—hold so many positions on green electronics standards boards that they can resist leadership standards and instead approve criteria they can easily achieve.
The cycle of innovation in tech radically outpaces the development cycle for electronics standards. For example, the current 1680.1 standard for computers includes design criteria that were written over a decade ago. Revising standards takes way too long.
Manufacturers have consistently blocked meaningful criteria that would influence their product design, including any incentives to encourage design for repair or recycling.
The current development process favors members from well-funded organizations. Participating in the standards development requires an investment of time and money—which often deters participants with fewer resources, such as non-profit organizations, small businesses, and academic experts. Manufacturers drag out the development process, bleeding non-profits of scarce resources.
Regulatory bodies should balance the representation of standards boards to avoid a process that can be commandeered by manufacturers' representatives.
“Green standards in the US play an important role. They are supposed to shape the electronics industry for the better and encourage manufacturers to make more sustainable products. As consumers, we should be able to trust them to identify only the most sustainable products,” says Gay Gordon-Byrne, Executive Director of Repair.org. “Instead, members of the IT industry have co-opted standards for their own benefit, warping them into a tool that drives sales at the expense of the environment. This is patently unacceptable, and it needs to change.”
“Electronics-makers can make products that are both cutting edge and long-lasting. Instead, they are pumping the market with disposable products that can’t be repaired and can’t easily be recycled. Green standards in the US should promote better, longer-lasting products—but tech companies won’t let that happen. They’re short-changing consumers and the environment,” weighs in iFixit CEO and reuse expert Kyle Wiens.
About the report’s author:
Mark Schaffer has 20 years of experience designing and manufacturing sustainable electronics. He is a well-regarded electronics engineer and consultant, providing supply chain, environmental and sustainability consulting and project management services to organizations around the world. He has been involved in standards development for the last 14 years.
Prior to starting Schaffer Environmental LLC, Mark managed environmental programs for Dell. While at Dell, Mark advocated for the creation of the initial green standard for computers. He served on the board of advisors of the Green Electronics Council for two years during its creation, leading Dell’s internal adoption of EPEAT for their institutional products.
His consulting firm conducts Life Cycle Assessments of electronic products for manufacturers. These assessments involve teardowns and material analysis to determine a product’s overall environmental impact, including their ability to be repaired and recycled. He audits organizations’ supply chains for compliance to EPEAT requirements—as well as national and international conflict mineral, RoHS, and REACH regulations. Mark has a BS in Materials Science & Engineering from North Carolina State University and has also worked for IBM, Static Control Components, Canon, and NASA.