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Measure, Manage, Improve Electronics (From a Sustainability Perspective)


You may know the adage “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” When it comes to sustainability, it’s an important principle. It is difficult to measure progress without setting some sort of goal, establishing a baseline, and working toward a target. Even if the target is somewhat nebulous such as “more energy efficient” and “less toxic.”

For more than 15 years, quantifying the environmental impacts of the end of life outcomes for electronic equipment has helped shape the electronics sustainability narrative. The original EPA calculators reported such things as the quantity of potentially hazardous waste and the weight of landfill avoidance. Bringing to light the environmental impacts of the materials traditionally used in electronics has motivated our industry to work to reduce or eliminate potentially toxic compounds such as bromated fire retardants (BFRs), cadmium and lead.

I haven’t been able to establish a “first mention” date for the circular economy, but over the same 15 years it has become a core sustainability strategy. The premise is simple – to move from a worldview based on a linear economy where a product lifecycle begins at production and ends in waste – to a circular economy where products are repurposed, reused, and as much as possible materials are recovered to incorporate into new products.

In the case of electronics, bending the arc from linear to circular has its challenges. On one hand, the drive toward reusing what’s reusable and the responsible recycling of what is not, has truly taken hold when it comes to electronics the size of smart phone and larger. On the other hand, as technology evolves, electronics get smaller and smaller and cheaper and cheaper. The widespread proliferation of tiny electronics like IoT (the internet of things) devices that have become so small that it is not economically feasible (and often not logistically feasible) to recycle defies the circular model.

Supporting electronics circularity, illumynt finds new lives for approximately 95% of the assets we process. The remaining 5% is responsibly recycled by our R2-certified downstream partners. And we quantify the Scope 3 emissions avoided through the reuse of devices and components, providing important data back to our customers who are intent on driving their GhG emissions down.

How do you measure and manage the end of life of your technology?

Be sure to read my continuing blog series as I discuss all things related to sustainable electronics.


Carol Baroudi has been focused on sustainable electronics for more than 15 years and is recognized for her prominent work as lead author for Green IT for Dummies. Carol is a contributing guest blogger for illumynt and consulting to support new sustainability initiatives.

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