“Sustainable” has become something of a buzzword in recent years. Issues of sustainability have surged into the public consciousness, leading companies to shift their focus towards the more environmentally friendly consumer.
However, as shoppers begin flocking to responsibly sourced and produced clothes made of recycled fabrics, they will continue feeding one of the most heinous of environmental offenders: electronic waste.
This new form of pollution, known commonly as “e-waste”, is supported by a tangled web of different causes. Cultural and monetary factors make up the bulk of the issue; our society is obsessed with innovation and a fetishism of the “next best thing”, while companies have a financial interest in pushing newer, better products as frequently as possible.
If both consumers and producers lack incentive to change then the onus falls one step back, to the people researching and creating the technology that powers these devices.
Several technologies that we now see as commonplace began as ideas in research labs like the ones here at Tech. If sustainable practices become integrated into the very foundation of our tech research, that sustainability will be carried through the pipeline all the way to the consumer — and, more importantly, to the landfill or recycling plant.
The problem of e-waste will persist, but as a major research institute, we have the opportunity to mitigate its severity and environmental impact. Instead of mandatory ethics courses that many students consider an afterthought, ethics and sustainability should be consciously integrated into our entire body of work. By ensuring that these technologies are sustainable at the point of conception we can promote cleaner practices across the board and maintain our position at the forefront of innovation.