Seven Questions for the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association

Seven Questions for the CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association

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innovation. There is also an effort to make every product accessible by every disabled person, no matter what the product is.

We did 100 filings with the Federal Communications Commission in 2012 alone, because there are so many efforts by the government to regulate us. Every time there is a new regulation, it is a new barrier for an entrepreneur. So a lot of what we are doing is defense. But sometimes things happen despite our best efforts. Like on conflict minerals—the input into our products, including some types of rare metals. There is a whole new regulatory structure in place [e.g., supply chain traceability requirements mandated by a section of the Dodd-Frank bill in 2010 and recently implemented by the SEC].

X: You mentioned conflict minerals. That leads me to a question about the environmental footprint of consumer electronics and efforts to increase recycling. What is the CEA doing to encourage progress in these areas?

GS: The first big area is energy efficiency. The energy our products use generally comes from batteries or the electricity you get from your wall. We decided about 15 years ago that first we have to know how much energy we use, so we created standards that are worldwide now for measuring how much energy our products use. Every TV set, every appliance has this information, so a consumer can make a decision.

Then there’s cutting energy usage—and our products have had phenomenal cuts in energy usage over the years. Newer products always use less energy than earlier products. Our only hassle with that, frankly, is California as a state, which has some rather absurd, non-science-based proposals on energy usage.

The second big area is product lifecycle and recycling. We have gathered every major company in the industry, from Dell to Sony to Apple, and they’ve agreed to targets for recycled products. We have a billion-pound challenge going—a five-year goal to recycle a billion pounds of consumer electronics. We are in our third year, and hopefully we are going to make it.

X: As a gadget freak and as a middle-class American, I own more than my fair share of electronic devices. As living standards rise around the world, do you think there’s a sustainable way for seven billion people to all have their own smartphones and computers?

GS: I don’t think seven billion people having their own devices will destroy the environment. I think it would be arrogant for us as a nation, or for any segment to say that we are entitled to these devices but other people aren’t. There’s a lot of studies that show that consumer electronics are a small part of the overall garbage flow—it’s less than 5 percent. So in terms of the contribution to what some people see as limited landfill, I don’t think that’s the issue. Is there an environmental impact? Yes, but because of their devices, people are getting better healthcare, better educations, and have the opportunity to advance and create businesses.

Increasingly, though, there are ways of repurposing used devices. Your phone may get stripped down for its essential metals, or it could be reused by somebody else.

What’s implicit in your question is that government has to step in and regulate to ensure that an environmental disaster does not occur, and I would submit that if the government steps in, it would hurt progress. Progress is more likely to shrink products and lower their weight and their energy usage. So these things have a way of working themselves out in the marketplace.

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The Author

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy.

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