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Who Cares About Local, Resource-Efficient Electronics Manufacturing?

By Pamela J. Gordon, Technology Forecasters Blog

Dec 02, 2013

On a Tuesday evening in Oakland, Calif., a larger-than-expected crowd attended a Sustainable Business Alliance event hosted by Digicom Electronics on the topic of local, resource-efficient, transparent-workplace electronics manufacturing. Here's why I think so many people care about where and how electronic products are made.

First, about the event
Drawing 50 people from inside and outside the electronics industry, the SBA's "Locally Inspired" event included a conversation between Dara O'Rourke of Good Guide and Andy Fyfe of B Lab on measuring and disclosing to retailers and customers the environmental and workplace impacts of individual products and companies as a whole. They continually referred to Digicom Electronics General Manager Mo Ohady as a positive example of both.

The speakers pointed to research suggesting that more people say they prefer environmentally and socially-responsible products than those who act upon better choices at point of purchase. Consumers' wavering commitment to fully investigating and actually purchasing more responsible products is one reason why Good Guide is now working with retail chains, including Target, to put on store shelves products that are healthier for consumers, workers, and the environment, explained O'Rourke.

The tour
All 50 attendees lined up behind Ohady to receive a tour of Digicom's facility. Most had never seen electronics manufacturing processes, and were fascinated to see solder-paste printing ("is it like screen printing T-shirts?" one asked), programmable pick-and-place and reflow ("wow, this is actually physical product"), and automated vision inspection ("how can it check so many tiny parts so quickly?"). But they were most impressed with Digicom's emphasis on minimizing environmental footprint, such as being the first EMS to certify in design for environment using DfE Online, sourcing local parts whenever possible, cleaning and reusing post-soldering water, and minimizing hazardous disposals.

In the presence of sustainable supply-chain and processes along with respectful worker conditions and treatment, the attendees know when they're seeing the real deal.

Why people care
Tuesday evening's attendees care about a clean and safe environment, local jobs, supporting responsible businesses, and networking with sustainability-minded people. They work for companies with competitively proactive sustainability programs or help run organizations that design efficient manufacturing processes, install solar panels, invest in Clean Tech, and/or match local folks with "green-collar" jobs. And they're also keenly aware that electronics is inextricably entwined with their work, personal lives, buildings, transportation, governments, and healthcare.

They want to understand how electronics manufacturing can be as resource-efficient as possible, employ people in their own communities, and make them feel hopeful about profitable alternatives to today's globalized manufacturing practices with questionable environmental and worker-treatment responsibility. About this, they care deeply.

Who do you think cares about local, resource-efficient electronics manufacturing, and how can they more consistently act on their values?

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