Sound and vision: with COP26 here, what more could technology do against climate change?


By the time you read this, Cop26 will have begun, the United Nations conference on how the governments of the world seek to tackle climate change. We generate more waste and use more energy than at any time in human history, the pandemic is not helping matters either. As you would expect, this elicits a certain degree of introspection.

The Design Museum in Kensington is currently organizing an exhibition titled “Waste Age: What Can Design Do?”. Like everyone else, I’m aware of the magnitude of the problem, and as the exhibit has shown, there are a variety of interesting and well-thought-out solutions being developed.

But to paraphrase the 35e The President of the United States “don’t ask what your country can do for you, ask what you can do to prevent climate change”. We all have a decision to make about how we react, and that is to be more informed about how we can react and the brands we can stand up for.

In the technology industry, the turnover of products can be quite large. Each year a new range of televisions, smartphones and laptops are offered; the constant attraction of novelty as consumers are tempted to switch to the latest and “best” model.

Not everyone needs a new model – we should be looking for things that are designed to last, but conversely, affordable products don’t always last. One solution is to go for products that have an in-line component, firmware updates that extend the life of a headset, TV, or sound bar.

Danish firm Bang & Olufsen has said consumer technology is not sustainable, and one of its solutions has been to adopt Cradle-to-Cradle certification which requires products to meet standards in five categories. There has also been a movement towards modular products, with components that can be swapped out and upgraded to extend life. However, being more of a boutique operation, it’s not as if B&O products are the kind of affordable mass market items that make up the bulk of the waste we produce. Yet it is a start.

The Scottish brand of hi-fi products Linn works the same way, with products available for decades as long as the parts necessary to keep them in good condition are still available.

More thought is put into the packaging. LG and Samsung have taken eco-friendly approaches, the former using less foam and plastic and more recycled molded pulp for their soundbar packaging. Samsung TV boxes are made of corrugated cardboard and can be reused in a fun way. The remote control of a selection of Samsung TVs is also battery-free, so it can be recharged using the sun’s energy. Sonos has also changed its approach by reducing the plastic that comes with its products.

The House of Marley headphones are made from sustainable materials, while Sony’s packaging for their WF-1000XM4 has moved to easily recyclable packaging, with the box using bamboo and cane scraps mixed with trash. of recycled paper, which you can all throw away without having to sort out the materials. Who knows, maybe other Sony headsets could use this process in the future …

Apple is making a lot of noise about its sustainability practices, using cleaner energy sources for manufacturing, creating products that use less power, and cases that have fewer accessories (like charging cables). ). But the danger, as there always seems to be, is hypocrisy. Apple is one of many big tech companies to lobby versus the climate change bill in the United States.

Other efforts include the Repairability Index in France, which scores products from 0 to 10/10 based on five criteria to inform customers about a product’s repair options before purchase. There is a thriving e-waste industry around material recovery – essentially what goes in is taken out – with the rare earth metals used in the manufacturing process mined and reused.

iFixit has long been pushing for companies to open up their designs to allow customers to repair products with the tools and parts they need, while the EU / UK Extended Producer Responsibility program expects manufacturers to they cover the cost of the end of life of their products. .

Awareness is always the key, but if there is something that I took away from the Waste Age exhibition, it is that we should be better informed, whether it is about the impact that the products that we buy may have or the way, when we dispose of them, they are not intended to be loaded on a ship and transported to another country. We also don’t have to develop a cycle of constant annual upgrades, and while recycling is a good thing, repair is even better.

There’s still a long way to go, but tech companies and consumers must step up their plate. As we’ve seen, we can’t always count on governments and brands to necessarily fight the right fight – and there’s no better place to make positive change than to start with ourselves.


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