Technology makes our lives more integrated, more efficient and more entertaining. It became a lifeline for many individuals and businesses that were suddenly forced to live and work in isolation during lockdowns, kickstarting the widespread adoption of digitisation worldwide.

Electronics products surround us at all times — in our homes, our cars and everywhere we go with a mobile phone or smart device in our pocket. So, it is no surprise that the global consumption of electronics is expected to double by 2050.

But technology is not only benefiting people; it is helping the planet, too. As we stand at a crossroads facing an irrevocable climate disaster, the electronics industry is doing everything possible to allow organisations and researchers to harness the large volumes of data at their disposal and find solutions to mitigate the climate crisis.

So, how exactly is technology supporting more environmentally friendly gadgets and business processes, and what must electronics engineers do to ensure sustainability throughout the manufacturing process?

Data-driven sustainability solutions

Human overconsumption and waste threaten life on Earth, with estimates suggesting we will need two planets’ resources by 2030. As a result, sustainability is no longer considered an extraneous detail or optional luxury. Now, it is a fundamental economic and societal priority. And as the applications of Industry 4.0 technologies such as the internet of things (IoT) continue to expand, the more opportunities our digital evolution presents to facilitate greener everyday processes.

Electronics designers embed IoT sensors into almost everything in today’s world, from light fixtures to medical apparatus. Networks of sensors and devices provide a stream of accurate environmental statistics, and integrated systems allow organisations to process large volumes of data at a low cost. By accessing this information, business leaders can identify areas of excess energy consumption and determine where waste can be limited.

Buildings and infrastructure are currently responsible for 39% of global carbon emissions. And as the population continues to grow, this figure will further increase. But technology can drastically reduce carbon emissions in this sector, from construction to daily use. For example, virtual reality headsets allow project managers to visualise a space before construction to minimise the number of reworks at the design stage, and intelligent building management systems improve the energy efficiency of day-to-day operations.

Technology can also help reduce the environmental impact of agricultural processes, which significantly contribute to global greenhouse gas emissions. Not only do precision application equipment, drones and robotics help farming businesses become more energy-efficient, but granular wireless sensors and smart farming systems deliver real-time data about various farming practices — such as seeding, fertilisation and irrigation. These systems reduce the impact of farming chemicals on the surrounding environment and produce safer, more successful crops.

Environmental considerations for electronics manufacturers

From robotics technology to new levels of automation with artificial intelligence and machine learning, digitisation and the industrial IoT is revolutionising sustainability in electronics manufacturing — the industry responsible for taking the latest gadgets for the sustainability sector from concept to reality.

Technology fuels the development of advanced electronic devices that monitor environmental variables, such as air pollution, waste management, water management and cold chain monitoring. However, as the number of electronics in the market increases, the amount of electricity required to keep them running and connected to the internet follows suit — not to mention the demand for resources to produce, package and distribute them.

According to beeco, a marketplace and media platform promoting eco-friendly alternative products, 70% to 80% of the total carbon footprint of each device is created from the manufacturing process. Plus, once a product enters the market, it is likely to end up in a landfill as e-waste. Many electronics products are not designed to be repaired, leading to throwaway culture and ‘planned obsolescence’, which sees businesses creating products intended to be replaced rather than restored, such as light bulbs or smart phones.

Modern consumers have high expectations for products’ sustainability credentials, and governments enforce procedures to ensure goods and services comply with environmental regulations. So, manufacturers must adopt circular practices to guarantee the products they supply aid sustainability and not add to consumption. Such methods include efficient recycling of waste electric and electronic equipment (WEEE) and sourcing more sustainable alternatives to raw materials, such as the gold found in many printed circuit boards integral to many electronic devices.

EC Electronics is dedicated to ensuring sustainability throughout the design and manufacturing processes. Discover our sustainability initiatives and contact us at +44 (0)1256 461894 or email to discuss your next technology project.