Electronic waste – or e-waste – is a massive problem globally. We discard around 50 million tonnes of electronic waste annually, of which only about 20% is formally recycled. Research shows that e-waste generation will increase by 30% by 2030.
Given the rise in the way we consume electronics, technology companies are trying to find ways to reduce their carbon footprint and offer today's conscious consumers products that last longer.
Also read: E-waste: A second life for digital debris
Dell is one of them. The Texas-based company, which aims to reduce its emissions by 50% by 2030, is trying hard to expand the boundaries when it comes to being sustainable.
One of the biggest steps in this direction is Concept Luna, announced during the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in January. The concept looks at creating products, especially laptops, that have components that are immediately accessible, replaceable and reusable. For instance, the motherboard that will find its way inside a laptop made using the Luna concept will be about 75% smaller and use 20% less components. The number of screws will also be reduced by 10 times over a regular laptop. It will carry a lithium iron phosphate battery, which comes with a longer lifecycle compared to the traditional lithium-ion battery.
“The idea is to cut down on the use of resources, increase the lifespan of a product and keep more circular materials in the economy,” Dell's head of global sustainability Page Motes told Lounge in an interview after the showcase. “The Luna concept is our first foray into really getting hungry, to understand how we can push the limits of sustainability with our laptops.”
We spoke with Motes about sustainability, Dell's Concept Luna and what it takes for a tech company to be sustainable. Edited excerpts:
What does sustainability mean to you?
I think it is really about ensuring that we are taking great responsibility to protect the planet.
I mean we, we really, really, really want to ensure that this concept is not a one-off. We want to build in sustainability, whether through focusing on using better materials, to ensuring that end-of-life products are treated properly, and leveraged in a circular fashion. And that's not only important to us; that's incredibly important to customers as well.
Creating products that last longer means less sales. From a business point of view, that's not a good thing, right?
Well, you know, this is today just a concept system. Think of it like a concept car. And this concept clearly supports our focus and determination and priorities around repair and extending life. Having said that, we're still exploring what the implications of it might be from the standpoint of customer demand and business model. But we do see sustainability as a key element that customers are looking for. There definitely can be a combination of sustainability, purpose and profit together. But right now, we are not necessarily expecting a significant change in how we bring something like this to market.
So I don't have all the answers right now about what it would mean from a price point standpoint.
By when is this concept expected to roll out?
In the next two-three years, perhaps. Luna is going to be complete package, not necessarily a standalone product. We're testing multiple concepts within this alpha unit.
So, as an example, when it comes to low carbon emissions, we are thinking of how we can bring changes in the number of screws in laptops (in other words, use less of screws in laptops).
So, all the laptops you will eventually offer will be 'green' in a sense then?
Well, we have already started to go down the path of using sustainable materials. In many of our laptops, we use a post-consumer recycled plastic. Many of them use scrap carbon fibre sourced through the aerospace industry.
The customer wants to use sustainable items; we have to deliver.
How can companies embrace a circular design vision?
You first have to have a very good understanding of what your design vision is for you to actually bring something to fruition.
We have to understand what the full lifecycle is of our products. We need to really ensure that we're looking at circularity and sustainable design and every stage of our products lifecycles, from the initial concept to the materials you need to source, to the manufacturing, delivery to the customer, and to the ability to repair and elongate life of the product.
Then you need to think about ways of reducing emissions. The focus should be on designing waste out of the system. If you start from there, then you are already headed in the right direction.
The other element is also understanding how you can leverage material at the end of life and thinking about it in a closed loop fashion like taking back plastic from the return products and putting it back into new products.
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