Hhow headphones, speakers and turntables are going green

The best and worst headphones ever

According to the Global E-waste Monitor, that’s how much electronic waste, known as e-waste, was generated globally in 2019. Even worse, only 17.4% of it was correctly recycled, meaning 83% was discarded through improper means – mostly in landfills, which could leak harmful toxins into the earth.

Every industry needs to step up and commit to environmental goals, but tech has a big problem – 53.6 million tonnes worth of a problem, to be exact.

So what can we do about it? In this guide, we’ll look at some of the different ways audio companies make their products and services more sustainable. From committing to environmentally-friendly practices to using recycled materials to create long-lasting products you might not need to get rid of for years – providing refurbishment and recycling schemes if you ever do.

Many of us have been steadily making changes to the way we shop, re-use and recycle for years now. According to research from Deloitte in early 2021, 32% of consumers are highly engaged in adopting a more sustainable lifestyle.

However, it often seems easier to shop for clothes and food with a more sustainable mindset. How do we apply that same thinking to tech?

Sustainability is a broad term. Simply put, it means that companies should produce goods and services in ways that don’t use resources we can’t replace and that don’t damage the environment in any other way.

To ensure tech companies are operating sustainably, then, means considering the way materials are sourced, products are manufactured and packaged and how they’re dealt with when they’re no longer needed. To ensure consumers are shopping sustainably means choosing long-lasting products that can be repaired or – radically – deciding not to buy any tech at all.

Sustainability is a broad term. Simply put, it means that companies should produce goods and services in ways that don’t use resources we can’t replace and that don’t damage the environment in any other way.

To ensure tech companies are operating sustainably, then, means considering the way materials are sourced, products are manufactured and packaged and how they’re dealt with when they’re no longer needed. To ensure consumers are shopping sustainably means choosing long-lasting products that can be repaired or – radically – deciding not to buy any tech at all. Many tech companies have sustainability goals, like becoming carbon neutral within a decade (Apple) or creating products with more recycled materials (Sony). However, we need to be wary of environmental claims, as issues within the tech industry run deep.

“Personally I’d be most interested to see tech brands that are designing out waste, considering the whole lifespan of a product, resisting the consumer trap of planned obsolescence and taking responsibility for what happens to our gadgets when they break, or wear out, or aren’t cool anymore,” says Lauren Bravo, author of How to Break up With Fast Fashion and expert on sustainable shopping. “If a brand has a free, functional repairs scheme to keep our gadgets in use for longer, then that would pique my interest more than any whizzy ‘green’ technology and ‘green’ schemes (nice though that is to see),” she tells us.

Bravo makes an excellent point. It’s all too easy to shout about new sustainability plans in order to win environmental points – known as ‘greenwashing’ – but tech’s biggest problem is how quickly it goes off. “Any brand making big, bold claims about sustainability needs to be prepared to answer the less sexy questions: how long will this product last? Will you repair it and replace parts for free? Can I use it with different devices for years into the future, or will you be bugging me to upgrade it within a year?” Bravo says.

Planned obsolescence is when a company intentionally engineers a product to go out of date. Whether it simply breaks down after a certain amount of time or no longer gets the updates it needs to keep working. Many tech companies have denied that they’ve built products to die within a year or two after you’ve bought them. But many of us know that our devices far too often break or stop working – this often mysteriously coincides with when we’re due an upgrade. Some might argue that what tech needs isn’t bold sustainability claims or even more recycled materials (they would be nice, sure). But what’s more important is building devices that can stand the test of time.

Tech companies need to choose recycled materials or (at the very least) won’t do damage to the environment if they do ever end up in a landfill. Like Grado and Focal, many audio tech companies have been experimenting with products made from sustainable materials, like wood and bamboo. Big brands, like Sony and Jabra, use recycled plastics and have bold plans for using more and more recycled materials in the future.

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