Tech makers tackle supply chain emissions


Headphones, keyboards and computer mice are plastic, often cheap and easy to lose or throw away.

Many of these computer peripherals accumulate dust in desk drawers and end up in landfill. In fact, e-waste — anything with a plug or battery — is now the fastest growing type of household waste in the world, according to the UN. It predicts that by 2030, the world will produce 74 million tons of e-waste per year.

So it may come as a surprise that one computer peripheral maker – Switzerland-based Logitech – topped FT-Statista’s list of European climate leaders this year.

Of the thousands of companies surveyed, it has reduced the intensity of its Scope 1 and Scope 2 greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the most – 47% year-on-year – between 2015 and 2020.

However, the significant emission intensity reductions of Scopes 1 and 2 need to be put into context. Scope 1 and 2 emissions come respectively from a company’s own activities and from the energy it uses. Intensity is defined in tons of CO2 equivalent emissions per 1 million euros of turnover. Reductions can therefore be achieved by purchasing renewable energy to power factories and using more recycled plastic in products.

High-tech landfill: UN predicts global e-waste will reach 74 million tonnes per year by 2030 © Alamy

And, for computing device companies, Scope 1 and 2 emissions represent less than 10% of their total carbon footprint, says Syed Yaqzan, who teaches at the Cranfield School of Management and advises companies on efficiency. energy.

It is Scope 3 emissions, which occur throughout the value chain – including suppliers supplying parts and customers using products – that cause the most damage to the environment.

In Logitech’s case, these Scope 3 GHGs account for 99.8% of the total because both Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions have been reduced to “negligible” levels, according to the company.

However, not all edge companies even measure their emissions, let alone have targets to reduce them, experts note.

“Emissions are outsourced to the supply chain,” says Dexter Galvin, global director of business and supply chains at CDP, a global nonprofit that helps organizations manage their environmental impact.

Reducing Scope 3 emissions can be difficult for edge companies, especially smaller ones, because they don’t have direct control over their supply chain, Galvin adds.

Large companies, on the other hand, can use their purchasing power to persuade their main suppliers – which may number several hundred – to reduce their emissions and encourage their own suppliers to do the same.

Overall, however, the sector is doing better at reducing emissions than many other industries, experts say. But there is plenty of room for improvement, including making products that last longer.

Extending the average lifespan of a product from three to five years would have a “colossal impact on the carbon footprint of the device,” says Ben Stanton, research director for technology, media and telecommunications at the consulting firm Deloitte UK.

Logitech says it aims to reduce Scope 3 emissions by at least 50% by 2030, compared to its 2019 levels.

Its scope 1 and 2 emissions have been reduced by switching to renewable energy sources, such as solar and wind, as 92% of the company’s energy worldwide comes from renewable energies. renewable. Logitech hopes to reach 100% by 2030.

It has also created a portal for its suppliers so that they can buy certified renewable electricity in bulk for their factories.

Large vendors typically have well-established policies on environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, says Prakash Arunkundrum, head of global operations and sustainability at Logitech. “For small suppliers. . . we had to use more cajoling. . . It’s not a question of motivation, it’s a question of [suppliers] agreement [their emissions] The data.”

Logitech’s other plans to reduce Scope 3 emissions include extending the life of products by remanufacturing and reselling them, and using more low-carbon materials.

Pedestrians walk past the Swiss electronics company Logitech store in Hong Kong
Logitech has reduced its scope 1 and 2 emissions, but almost all of its carbon footprint is scope 3 © Budrul Chukrut/Alamy

In the longer term, materials derived from biological sources such as fungi and hemp could be used in the “next frontier” of electronics, adds Arunkundrum.

Technology can also help companies measure and reduce their carbon footprint.

Lenovo – another computer and peripheral maker in this year’s list – uses an online platform to calculate the environmental impact of its products.

This tool – developed by sustainability consultancy Quantis and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – “makes assumptions about how a product is built, [its] screen size and memory,” said Mary Jacques, director of global environmental affairs and sustainability at Lenovo. “This will give a number on how much carbon a product will produce during manufacturing, [consumer] use and disposal”.

Alongside voluntary best practices, environmental regulations are becoming stronger.

The European Commission has updated its energy labeling requirement for electronic products and proposed minimum efficiency requirements for IT equipment.

The EU’s Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive says 75% of small IT equipment must be collected by the manufacturer and 55% must be prepared for re-use and recycling, says a Commission official in the environment department .

Although Logitech is headquartered in Switzerland, which is not a member of the EU, the company complies with all EU regulations as its products transit through EU countries – and “as a matter of good practice”.

According to the Commission official, it is estimated that less than 40% of electronic waste in the EU is recycled. She adds that the Commission is considering new incentives for manufacturers to take back equipment and for consumers to return it.

Emissions are an industry-wide problem. If all the companies in the global peripherals sector tackle their Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions, then Scope 3 emissions will necessarily drop, says Galvin.

“Every device company needs to take a hard look at where these emissions are coming from and demand changes from their partners,” he adds. “Every council should have a serious plan to tackle these emissions or they don’t do their job properly.”

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