SEI Symposium

Note: This post was written by SEI staff member, Amy Cade.

The 2010 Electronics and Sustainability: Design for Energy and the Environment Symposium held two weeks ago was a great success! Over 20 impressive speakers in the fields of academia, manufacturing, retail, government, and recycling presented their take on electronics and sustainability. We had an impressive turnout, lively conversation, and overall, a great time had by all.

Here are some highlights from the event:

Dr. Tim Lindsey, Sustainable Electronics Initiative Director, opened the symposium with an optimistic message. Dr. Lindsey suggested that the perfect blueprint for sustainability is the natural ecosystem and, unlike our man-made system, a natural ecosystem does not operate in isolation. Hope was given when Dr. Lindsey acknowledged that we had every stage of the electronics cycle present at the symposium; a great opportunity to work together towards sustainable electronics.

► “We will be the greenest technology company on the planet.” –Michael S. Dell. This is the challenge given to Dr. Mike Newton, Rajib Adhikary, and the rest of the team at Dell. Dr. Newton responded to this challenge in his presentation by identifying the areas in which Dell needs to improve, acknowledging the accomplishments that have already been made, and giving a picture for future endeavors. Mr. Adhikary, one of the keynote speakers, took a designers approach to addressing the problem. He recognized that a change from a focus of selling physical equipment to selling the service or experience that equipment provides is a step in the right direction in terms of using less materials and helping the environment.

Mike Tibbs, a Senior Director at Walmart, was the other keynote speaker. Mr. Tibbs gave a compelling presentation about the progress made by Walmart by acknowledging what we were all thinking: the scale Walmart operates on is indeed incredible; the smallest change made from the top has a great impact. Therefore, it was reassuring to hear Walmart’s work towards zero waste, 100 percent renewable energy, and selling sustainable products.

Charles Newman, founder of ReCellular, was also able to give a sense of scale and gravity to the problem of electronic waste by identifying and quantifying just one section of it: cell phones. He discussed the efforts of ReCellular, the type of equipment being turned in, the process used to repurpose the equipment, the main sources of opposition, and ways he has made his business successful. When asked about the difficulty of wiping the cell phones Mr. Newman replied with an, “Oh boy…” and then explained that he employs 14 people solely committed to wiping cell phones. Insuring data destruction seems to be a huge challenge in the field of electronic reuse.

Dr. Bill Olson and Roger Franz represented two different sectors of Motorola. Dr. Olsen gave an overview of the sustainability and stewardship efforts made by Motorola. Dr. Olsen’s explanation of Motorola’s W233 RENEW was especially impressive. Roger Franz is an Engineering Manager at Motorola. He was responsible for eliminating hazardous materials from Motorola cell phones before it was the popular thing to do. He gave an illuminating presentation regarding the materials currently used in cell phones along with more environmentally friendly materials that could potentially be used.

Joseph Shacter and Mell Nickerson addressed the new Illinois E-Waste Law entitled, “Electronic Products Recycling and Reuse Act, Public Act 95-0959.” They each gave great information regarding the components of this law, who it will affect, and what they still need to work on.

►There were a great number of SEI University Affiliates who gave presentations including Deborah Thurston and Harrison Kim from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC). They shared information on the work that they and their graduate students are currently conducting dealing with a new design for Take-Back of electronics. Also from the UIUC, Dr. John Abelson gave a riveting presentation about the material choices when considering the entire life cycle of a product. At one point in his presentation, Dr. Abelson quizzed the attendees to guess the most energy intensive steps in the life cycle of a water bottle and then gave his results. The attendees were surprised by the outcome. Steve Belletire, Associate Professor of Industrial Design at Southern Illinois University, was also in attendance. In addition to the unequivocal design perspective, his presentation also had a humanitarian message. Mr. Belletire showed a picture of his young grandson to remind the attendees of the reason for the need to become more sustainable: future generations. Another SEI University Affiliate in attendance was Dr. Tim Smith, Director and Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Smith analyzed the ways in which we govern electronic standards and gave his educated opinion. Kate Catterall and Amrita Adhikary were represented the work they do at University of Texas, Austin. Kate Catterall comes from a designing background, so gave great insight to design regulations and pointed out the work that could still be done.

►Other academics included Dr. Callie Babbitt of Rochester Institute of Technology. Dr. Babbitt introduced her innovative hybrid approach to a Life Cycle Analysis (LCA). Dr. Babbitt then showed results from this type of LCA applied to a 2001 Dell laptop. This type of approach seemed to insure a great amount of accuracy. Eric Williams, Professor at Arizona State University, focused his presentation on addressing present heuristics related to the solutions of electronic waste and suggested that the a risk management perspective combined with a consideration of economic and social issues would be a more prolific approach when considering solutions to electronic waste.

And there was much more! 

Turn to the Paper and Presentation Archives for copies of the presentations and videos of the presenters. The archives are free to symposium attendees, and are available to the outside public for $50. Attendees, you will be receiving an email with your sign-in information shortly. 

If you attended the conference, please make sure to fill out this survey and tell us about your experience and how we can improve the symposium for next year.

E-Waste Challenge Results!
During the symposium, participants were asked to take the “E-Waste Challenge” by comparing two computers on the basis of their performance. Without knowing which computer was refurbished (on the right) or brand new (on the left), participants filled out a survey stating which computer performed better. 50% of the survey participants stated that the new computer performed better, and 31% and 19% of the surveyed individuals said they could not tell a difference between the two computers and that the refurbished computer performed better, respectively.

Join the SEI as a Corporate, Not-for-Profit, Professional or Student Member at

The second annual Energy and Sustainability Symposium is scheduled for March 23 and 24, 2011. So keep those dates open on your calendar!

Leave a Reply