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Q&A: Intellect on waste, recycling and carbon

laurence_harrison-custom.jpgMeet Laurence Harrison, the director of consumer electronics at a think tank called Intellect.

Greenbang: Can the technology industry ever reach zero carbon status without offsetting?

Laurence: As an industry we are reducing our carbon footprint in every aspect of our products and services lifecycles on a daily basis.

There are also many examples of innovative ICT products and services driving huge energy efficiency gains in other sectors. If a logistics software service is adopted by a transport provider, the new system will have an energy impact of its own because it will be run on computers, probably backed up on servers that run 24 hours a day.

However, if that software package enables the transport provider to cut his vehicle miles substantially, then this is an excellent trade-off. If the technology sector’s energy requirement can result in dramatic cuts in other sectors’ energy requirements, then the overall result is a decrease in gross energy requirement.

It is therefore important to distinguish this from the kind of additional growth in our energy use that comes from, for example, the average screen size of TVs becoming larger, or the increasing number of electronics entertainment devices in the home.

While at the moment many manufacturers say they are unlikely to be able to reach zero carbon without some offsetting, we need to remember that offsetting is only done after other avenues for reduction in energy use and improvements in efficiency have been exploited.

Many technology companies believe that relying on the WEEE directive is enough to safeguard themselves from environmental criticism – is this true in your belief?

Laurence: No, most companies are doing far more. Many have invested heavily in their product design and manufacturing processes and have taken huge steps to minimise the environmental impact of the product lifecycle over and above that required by EU Directives. There are also a number of voluntary agreements which have achieved energy efficiency improvements in orders of magnitude. For example, the average energy consumption on televisions in standby mode has been reduced by manufacturers, with out any legislation from 30W in 1995 to 1.8W today and is continuing to decrease. Similarly the power consumption of televisions when in use has come down from 400W in 30W since the 1970s.

How many consumer and business tech companies are concerned about how they resource product materials?

Laurence: I believe that all of them are. We recently conducted a survey among our members and all the respondents said good environmental practice across all areas of their business was in their top three priorities.

What are your organizations trying to promote from this?

Laurence: Consumers are the driving force behind innovation and product development because they provide the market pull for products and services. Manufacturers simply respond to, and to some extent try to anticipate, that demand. If energy efficiency drives demand, then energy efficiency will drive supply. To date, the sector has had to rely on voluntary agreements within the industry to improve energy efficiency in the absence of customer demand.

However, we are now undergoing a sea change in political, consumer and business attitudes, and the new emphasis means that for the first time, competition will focus around energy efficiency and environmental impacts, and this is a key driver for rapid evolution in an area where technological development is already extremely fast.

To support this Intellect is working closely with the Energy Savings Trust to expand their Energy Savings Recommended scheme and with Ofgem on their Energy Efficiency Commitment, both of which help to promote energy efficient products to consumers. We are also working to ensure best practice with regards to energy use and auditing within our members businesses.

Do you think most think of environmental action as recycling and carbon emissions – something of an after effect?

Laurence: No I don’t for a range of reasons. First, ICT and CE manufacturers have led the adoption of life-cycle assessment through eco-design. This is particularly important for products with high-energy impact of manufacture because it provides transparency and also allows meaningful comparisons to be made.

High tech businesses are also taking a leading role in incorporating the entire supply chain into these calculations, because the impact of a product or service is a result not just of its manufacturing and use, but also of the supply chain, for instance, HP has taken a leading role in this area with their Social and Environmental Responsibility policy that involves the whole supply chain for any product – a vital consideration in any approach.

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