What comes to mind when you think of the tech industry: cutting-edge products that make our lives easier, disruptive technology to keep us connected, over great distances, innovations that make our lives more enjoyable? I'd say yes to all three, but the latest consumer electronics (CE) items now arriving on retail shelves are breaking ground in another way. They're designed, built and sold with environmental sustainability and energy efficiency in mind.
What's prompting CE companies to think green? You are. Unlike what we're witnessing in the energy sector, where the government and industry engage in a constant tug-of-war -- our industry strives to balance what consumers want from our devices and what we all need as global citizens. That's why we're working together to create more energy-efficient and earth-friendly products and services.
Increasingly, at CE companies, designers are taking the environmental impact of raw materials into account when deciding how new products are made. For example, manufacturers are moving away from so-called virgin plastics and resins, because the extraction process emits CO2. Instead, they're using more recycled plastics and finding new ways to make recyclables more eco-friendly.
CE manufacturers are also finding new alternatives to toxic substances in the design and manufacturing of next-generation products. Cathode ray tube (CRT) TVs and old computer monitors contain lead and other potentially hazardous substances. Not only are companies now eliminating these materials from their production lines in exchange for safer components, the CE industry as a whole is also innovating to find solutions for recycling CRT glass.
The CRT Challenge is a crowd-sourced competition supported by the Consumer Electronics Association that challenges researchers to develop with new uses for CRT glass. Energy-efficient furnaces, lead-shielding tiles and bricks, and a new method for storing nuclear waste are just a few of the winning solutions during the first two challenges held in 2012 and 2013.
CEA is also working with the U.S. Energy Department and the Natural Resources Defense Council to make television set-top boxes more energy efficient. This voluntary agreement will ensure that 90 percent of new set-top boxes meet the Environmental Protection Agency's ENERGY STAR 3.0 efficiency levels by 2017, saving more than $1 billion in residential energy savings every year. As Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz pointed out, this type of public-private collaboration not only saves consumers money by saving energy, but also keeps pace with our industry's rapid rate of technological innovation.
Perhaps the greatest environmental responsibility of the CE industry is to ensure you know how to reduce the environmental impact of your devices. Resources like GreenerGadgets.org can help you find nearby recycling locations simply by entering your zip code, and offer tips for how to live green and buy green. In part because of consumer-facing initiatives like these, the CE industry arranged for more than 620 million pounds of electronics to be recycled last year - more than double the amount recycled in 2010, according to CEA's eCycling Leadership Initiative report.
Consumers deserve plenty of credit as increasingly you consider the environmental impact of CE devices before you reach the checkout counter. More than 80 percent of consumers recognize and understand the ENERGY STAR label on their products. And other labels like the Green Electronics Council's global rating system and the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) can help you make greener purchasing decisions.
We all share the responsibility of protecting our planet. Leveraging the power of innovation, the consumer electronics industry is voluntarily leading the way to improve sustainability and increase the energy efficiency of the devices we all rely on. Working together, we can drastically decrease our environmental impact and create a greener world. Find out what you can do at GreenerGadgets.org/EarthMonth not just now, during Earth Month, but all year long.
Gary Shapiro is president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), the U.S. trade association representing more than 2,000 consumer electronics companies, and author of the New York Times best-selling books Ninja Innovation: The Ten Killer Strategies of the World's Most Successful Businesses and The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream. His views are his own. Connect with him on Twitter: @GaryShapiro.