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Keep the Pressure on Electronics-Industry Associations

By Pamela J. Gordon, Technology Forecasters Blog

Jun 19, 2014

In March, a colleague of mine asked a major industry association if they offered certification in supply-chain sustainability. The executive responded that they do not, but that it might be an interesting idea for the future. My colleague’s reaction was that this association is well behind the curve in this key link in the chain, and would have to move swiftly to continue to be of relevance in today’s business world.

Electronics-industry associations are evolving organizations that should continually strive to meet the needs of their members. Like my colleague, more members are yearning to get ahead of the burgeoning number of environmental regulations and to discover best-practice sustainability strategies for their companies. One place they turn is to their favorite industry associations. But what do they find?

A Burning Question

I wanted to know which electronics-industry associations will provide the greatest benefits and resources to meet sustainability goals and actually improve the environment? And for those not progressing, what can members do about it? After all, as tech-companies’ sustainability strategies progress, their customers demand more efficient products, and material resources become more constrained, associations will be forced to be bolder and more proactive to truly foster industry sustainability.

My instinct — having run a research-and-consulting firm for 27 years — was to answer the question by interviewing association members.

Seek Answers from Members
TFI approached executives at several electronics industry associations to see who would be interested in having us conduct candid member interviews to objectively assess their associations’ efficacy for bringing about environmental benefits in the tech industry.

Sanjay Huprikar, vice president of member success at the IPC Association Connecting Electronics Industries, answered the call and commissioned the study.

We interviewed 16 active IPC members who also belong to other electronics industry associations. These include the Surface Mount Technology Association, International Microelectronics Assembly and Packaging Society, International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, and Semiconductor Equipment and Materials International. We asked the members about the efficacy of these associations in terms of environmental protection and other goals, such as member development and standards.

Members’ Sustainability Benefits, in Their Own Words
This week GreenBiz.com ran our summary of the study’s findings. In short, we found that some electronics industry associations promise members environmental-protection services, but members say they actually receive more advice on regulatory compliance than on forward-thinking sustainability roadmaps for collectively taking the electronics industry beyond the regulations du jour. Fortunately, some electronics industry associations are moving beyond regulations-only charters.

Upon completion of the study, the IPC’s Huprikar said, “Actively listening to the members’ needs and then taking action on their behalf are the only sure pathways to sustaining the association for the long term.”

Keep the Pressure On

Associations have to represent an entire industry and therefore hesitate to go too far or promise too much. Members with robust sustainability goals have to “lobby” for this to be a priority at industry associations. Associations represent a great opportunity to effect widespread change an industry, and can give sustainability professionals a platform to lead other companies to embrace more sustainable practices, methodologies, and standards.

Associations will not necessarily push members to the next level of sustainability practices. But members can raise the baseline through their involvement and commitment — emphasizing that the industry’s continued profitability and continuity rests in good part on meeting customers’ increasing efficiency requirements, avoiding dependence on dwindling materials, and reducing costs through design-for-environment principles.

Read the article, and post a comment below: What advice do you have for electronics-industry associations for more actively helping the entire industry to elevate sustainable practices?

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