16 March 2009
Jenni Rosser, cleaner design specialist, Envirowise
Jenni Rosser, cleaner design specialist at Envirowise, talks with Chris Shaw
CS: In terms of 'green awareness' how does the electronics sector compare with other markets?
JR: When it comes to products, we're starting to get there – but there is a big barrier when companies don't design their own products. If an electronics firm buys in products and rebrands them, then its harder to specify green products. Companies tend not to focus on the environmental impact of a product at the specification stage, so consequently cannot adjudge its green credentials.
The procurement sector might be lagging behind on environmental impact in a number of ways. Firstly, packaging – which has gained a lot of media interest with retailers – opens the door for big opportunities in the electronics sector. There are massive opportunities for electronics packaging, not to mention the fact that computer component packaging might veer on the edge of what trading standards require. In terms of rewducing the carbon footprint, it's probably easier to improve the packaging rather than products. However, this is just a short term solution.
CS: How important is legislation as a driver for manufacturers?
JR: With the introduction of RoHS, we had a large number o companies calling us as they didn't understand what they needed to do. This was good for us as it gave us the opportuinty to encourage them to look beyond mere compliance. With the EUP directive on the horizon, there will be another burst of interest in eco design. As yet, there is no obligation on companies, but they do need to start identifying the environmental impacts. They will need to document the ways in which they will reduce their carbon footprint once the directive comes in. And, as well as documentation, the legislation will also insist that companies produce viable action plans to reduce this.
CS: What are your thoughts on individual producer responsibility (ipr)?
JR: This is the way that both the Weee and RoHS directives were heading. However, it was easier for companies to sign up to compliance schemes which means that they wouldn't necessarily get their product back at the end of its life. Although the Weee directive, in particular, pushed for this strategy, due to the complications of the industry, it was clearly unworkable to get products back. This then saw the introduction of compliance schemes.
If companies could get their own products back it would obviously inspire them to design them differently, to allow individual components to be removed for reuse. In theory, of course, it's a good idea, but practically it needs strict legislation.
CS: Ultimately, where should the responsibility lie?
JR: With everyone! When we were working with a number of companies, we ran workshops aimed at teaching designers about eco design principals. As well as the success of getting the message across, these also allowed designers to liaise with producyion managers and talk about eco design. It was quite a shock during our workshops, as it was clear that they hadn't actually met before! It highlighted a singular lack of communication. Designers need to know the whole line of a product - where the design goes, how it will work, not to mention how it will be marketed.
This is why the responsibility lies with everyone and why we recommend that teams get together regularly to discuss process efficiency as well as environmental issues.
CS: How can Envirowise help electronics design engineers?
JR: We run a free advice line that provides completely free advice from our technical consultants. If a designer wishes to look for different, more sustainable materials, our adviser will discuss the options and run through ideas that may affect the whole line.
This year we also plan to develop an online community for designers based on the interest we've had from our webinars.