BRUSSELS, Belgium – Is there a difference between the U.S. and Europe on green and sustainability issues? It appears there is to judge from an interaction at the IMEC Technology Forum here yesterday.
James Thompson, executive vice president of engineering at Qualcomm Technologies Inc., provided a 30 minute presentation, on mobile computing in which he concluded that Qualcomm has a bright future in the mobile because of the apparently endless appetite for new features in ever-more sophisticated mobile phones and tablets. Qualcomm plans to answer that demand through fabless manufacturing coupled with a deeper engagement with the semiconductor industry, Thompson said.
During his talk he observed that the general business model in mobile telephony is that consumers get a new phone plus a two year contract and every two years and are eager to upgrade because each phone has brought new and exciting features.
It was not so much the content of Thompson's talk that displayed the difference between the U.S. and Europe as what happened after.
During the question and answer session at the end of his talk an audience member asked what Qualcomm was doing about recycling. Thompson hesitated before saying: "Recycling is not something I normally think about."
Thompson then responded that Qualcomm is involved in wireless charging, which is green because it can save consumers from having multiple "wall wart" transformers plugged in all the time. I think this is a specious argument as I have written elsewhere (see London Calling: Forget wireless charging) but in any case does not address the topic of recycling.
So it was left to the questioner to be more specific about what he meant. What is Qualcomm doing to design phones and chips so that component elements and materials are more easily recyclable, and thus mitigate the waste of throwing away a phone every two years? The mobile phone industry and its users are now responsible for hundreds of millions of phones, loaded with expensive-to-produce silicon, plastics and precious metals headed toward landfill, incineration, or offshore unregulated deconstruction.
Answer there was none. But it is perhaps something that should be starting to climb up Thompson's and Qualcomm's agenda?
I'm not holding anything against James Thompson.
The fact is that making precious metals more easily recoverable would be very difficult in modern IC and, as far as I know is not done. Similarly making the same ICs reusable in multiple generations of equipment is not done. After all, who would want a computer loaded with memory ICs considerably older than the machine itself.
But these things are starting to be matters of concern.
Peter, it seems to me that the question was posed to a person at Qualcomm who was not the best-qualified to answer it. As @benhoopes comments above, Q does indeed pay proper attention to recycling eWaste. Granted one expects every one to be aware of their social and environmental responsibility including the said Q exec above, I wouldn't hold that against him!
If the discussion that you wanted to set up was a discussion of recycling of e-waste across the industry, it should have been framed as such rather than broadly calling out Americans or Qualcomm based on but one interaction.
Well the interaction was a hook to hang a discussion upon.
I am not sure whether engaging in 486,000lbs of e-waste recycling in a year is a good or bad figure.
The same report you cite reveals that Qualcomm had 21,200 employees in 2011, which equates to 22.9 lbs of e-waste recycling per capita for 2011.
This doesn't seem a lot to me but others may be able to shed light on this.
Peter, I am not sure that I agree that this interaction is really a proper basis to extrapolate a conclusion regarding American and European goals and views of e-waste and sustainability. Indeed, I did a bit of informal research (thank you, Google), and Qualcomm's 2011 Social Responsibility report was one of the first hits detailing, among other things, 486,000 lbs of e-waste recycling.
Agreed. And some people on two-year contracts don't upgrade.
But the issue of what can be done about recycling of parts and materials within relatively short-life consumer electronics remains.
Should companies design a more expensive product that can cost the planet less in terms of carbon footprint? Or will that just mean they lose out to the competitor who optimizes for consumer price/performance?
And if the later is true should governments regulate to impose carbon footprint design considerations on all manufacturers?
I don't think healthy smartphones get thrown away like they used to. My iPhone 1 still does iPod duty in my garage. With smartphones doubling as cameras, nav systems, entertainment sources, etc. they have a lot more intrinsic utility, even after the cellular service is turned off.
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