CBSR poll confirms rising e-waste awareness, public support for responsible management
A new Ipsos-Reid poll, commissioned by Canadian Business for Social Responsibility (CBSR), has found that not only are Canadians keenly aware of the issue of electronics waste (e-waste), they support responsible management with their pocketbooks.
The survey found that 81% of Canadians are aware of the issue, with an even higher percentage (84%) saying they prefer to purchase electronics from companies with environmentally responsible disposal practices. Moreover, almost 40% indicated willingness to pay a premium for such products.
"If left unmanaged, e-waste could become a hot-button consumer issue for the high-tech sector in the same way that labour issues have been for the textile and footwear industries," observed CBSR president and CEO Adine Mees. "The health of the industry, in terms of brand perception, will depend on each company's ability to proactively deal with the e-waste issue."
The poll follows a review of corporate social responsibility (CSR) trends in the high-tech sector, produced by CBSR and sponsored by Bell Canada. The report examines both the accomplishments and challenges facing the sector, and analyzes external drivers for change as well as opportunities for leadership. A brief summary of companies leading by example is included as well.
Many individual sectors within the high-tech industry, such as telecommunications, have a positive environmental image: they are viewed as relatively benign in terms of resource use and are cited as having the potential to benefit the environment through pollution-reducing measures such as teleconferencing, telework, etc. In addition, notes the report, many companies have set up leading-edge environmental programs.
On the other hand, however, life-cycle issues relating to high-tech products rank among the main environmental challenges for the industry. The report points to the need for product take-back and recycling programs.
CBSR encourages all industry players to adopt progressive CSR practices including stewardship programs such as Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). A number of external drivers, including legislation (notably Europe's Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directives), and pressure from shareholders and consumers, as well as from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are contributing to the development of end-of-life management schemes for e-waste.
Producer responsibility programs offer companies the opportunity to re-utilize valuable materials in their products and will encourage the creation of readily recyclable products, says the report. Other areas of opportunity-some already being implemented by industry-leading firms such as Hewlett-Packard, Telus, Intel, Microsoft, IBM and Bell Canada-include design for the environment and eco-efficiency.
"The numbers show that Canadians want companies to take action," says Mees. "And manufacturers like HP are showing that CSR practices, like product stewardship, can be good for both society and the bottom line."
The Ipsos-Reid poll surveyed 1,000 Canadians and is considered accurate to within 3.1%, 19 times out of 20. Canada produces 140,000 tonnes of E-Waste every year (about 7,000 dump trucks worth), a number that is expected to triple by 2010.
Founded in 1995, CBSR is a non-profit, business-led, national membership organization of innovative Canadian companies working to improve their social, environmental and financial performance.
A session on e-waste management at the Energy and Environment Conference (EECO) in Toronto late last month offered an intriguing look at up-and-coming developments in this domain. Allen Wilson, of Intel's sustainable development group, cited two recent initiatives aimed at promoting environmentally responsible end-of-life (EOL) management of e-waste.
While Intel has only a small branded business, its components (chips, boards, etc) reside in roughly 80% of all PCs, he noted. This places a significant EOL responsibility on the company, in areas such as product design, technology and process development, marketing and sales, and voluntary initiatives.
Intel is a founding member, together with e-Bay, of the Rethink initiative. Launched in the U.S. in January this year, Rethink promotes environmentally responsible management of e-waste by informing consumers about the options and resources available to them for disposing of outdated, unwanted computer equipment. The initiative also encourages involvement by industry, governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Wilson said he expects that approximately one million pounds of e-waste will be managed this year through the Rethink project. (More information is available on-line at www.ebay.com/rethink.)
Also emerging is EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, designed to help consumers select the most energy-efficient, environmentally sustainable product for their needs. Similar to the Energy Star program, it sets out eight performance categories for rating the environmental performance of electronic products, assigning gold, silver and bronze rankings to the best. Intel contributed to the development of this program, which Wilson said has the potential to drive environmental innovation. (More information is available on the EPEAT Web site, www.epeat.net.
Meanwhile, in just over half a year of operation, Alberta's new electronics recycling program has kept about 56 tonnes of lead out of landfills by recycling more than 20,000 computer monitors, 9,400 televisions and 12,000 printers (among other electronics). In addition, more than 100 municipal electronics collection sites have been established across the province and are registered as part of the program (listing available at www.albertarecycling.ca).
The program is being managed by the Alberta Recycling Management Authority (ARMA), a not-for-profit organization whose chair, Sid Hinton, said, "We are very pleased about how well the program is operating at this early stage of the game. Thanks to Albertans, more than 1,000 tonnes of electronic material has been recycled as we celebrate Environment Week."
Four qualified processors recycle the electronics: HMI Industries, Maxus Technology, Recycle-Logic and newly-qualified Shanked Metals. Salvageable commodities are then sent to downstream processors and tracked by ARMA's auditing process. For example, the steel from computers goes to steel foundries; the cathode ray tubes go to a lead smelter.
Electronic suppliers and retailers collect an environmental fee on the sale of designated new electronic products such as televisions and computers. ARMA estimates that it will collect $8 million in the first year and will use those funds exclusively for the collection, transportation and recycling of e-waste, public information/awareness and research into better recycling technologies.
An Electronics Recycling Alberta Industry Council (ERAIC) has been established to provide industry input and recommendations on key strategic aspects of the program. The program will be reviewed with stakeholder input starting in the fall of 2005.
More information is available on-line at www.albertarecycling.ca.