A smartphone and a laptop placed side by side on a wooden table. Both the smartphone and the laptop have a unique texture that resembles greenery sustainability

Green by lack of choice

In recent years, there has been a seismic shift in the narrative of technology companies. Once the harbingers of convenience, speed, and innovation, many have now eagerly donned the mantle of ‘sustainability champions.’ Everywhere you look, companies are eager to boast about their environmental commitments. Some have used upwards of 30 per cent PCR (Post Consumer Recycled) plastics and some have even thrown in OBP (Ocean Bound Plastics) into the mix for some extra brownie points. Before I go on, I’d like to make it clear that I actually do appreciate that companies are taking up these measures. However, as with all things, it’s worth taking a step back and assessing the genuine intent behind these grand declarations.

It’s hardly surprising that the sudden surge in enthusiasm for sustainability came around the time the EU implemented its regulations around recycled plastics in products. Preceding this mandate, how many tech giants were truly concerned with using recycled materials out of their own volition? And how many simply adjusted their course to adhere to these new market rules? It’s hard not to be cynical.

In places where these companies manufacture their devices, we see a lot of exploitation of factory workers who are made to work ridiculous hours to meet output targets. So, while there might be a lot of talk on the use of sustainable manufacturing practices, there certainly are places where these companies continue to look the other way. Furthermore, a broader issue of sustainable practices lurks in the shadows of these sustainability reports and product announcements. True sustainability isn’t just about preserving nature or reducing emissions; it’s about making sure our technological and economic advancements benefit everyone. And for a lot of upcoming economies, some of these sustainability goals would mean that the manufacturing would simply shift to another country where rules are a little lax. True change comes when the sale of products gets regulated. And that is what has really caused a lot of companies to suddenly turn green.

These past few years have seen recycled plastic regulations come into effect across major global players – the USA, Europe, and India. The strategies adopted by these regions are varied, with Europe being notably stringent. While it’s commendable that such steps are taken to create a greener future, we must ask ourselves – why did it take regulatory measures to bring about this change? We recently saw the government announce import restrictions on laptops into the country without a particular licence. While the move is political, there is the added “green benefit” to all this. Currently, very few consumer devices are manufactured in countries with strict regulations regarding the use of plastics. These factories manufacture for targeted markets. A product to be sold in the EU has always been manufactured with strict material guidelines regarding the presence of harmful metals. All while the exact same product would be manufactured with lax standards for sale in markets outside the EU where standards aren’t so strict. It’s only when the economies of scale deem it imprudent to manufacture two separate versions of the same product that we get the same product everywhere. This is because the manufacturing happens in a country which does not mandate green regulations across the board. If the same manufacturing facility were to move to the EU, then you could easily bet that all products coming out of such factories would be clean and green. India has adopted good and relatively stringent measures, so manufacturing moving to India could actually benefit the entire world if you follow the same logic.

This is not to dismiss the efforts of those genuinely pushing for a sustainable future. But for every genuine actor in this space, there are others who seem more concerned with appearing green than with actual sustainable practices. The recycling initiatives, while vital, are a mere facet of the broader sustainability dialogue we should be having. True sustainability should be a harmonious blend of environmental, social, and economic concerns.

All these reflections bring us to the core theme of our magazine this month – heroing the genuine change-makers. We’re turning the spotlight onto those individuals and companies that aren’t just adhering to the letter of the law but are pushing boundaries, innovating, and truly seeking to make a holistic difference. These are entities that recognize that for sustainability efforts to be genuinely meaningful, they must be rooted in empathy, inclusiveness, and forward-thinking that doesn’t sideline the immediate pressing needs of today.