As the field of sustainability becomes more sophisticated, there has been a shift in awareness from looking at a company’s immediate environmental footprint, to investigating the often much wider impacts of its global supply chain.
This is particularly true for the world of electronics. Electronic products are now ubiquitous in modern life and business. However, understanding the wider environmental and other sustainability-relevant impacts that electronics have is not so simple. Individual electronics products can contain hundreds of parts, with many of these parts manufactured in developing countries. The supply chains for these products can stretch across tens, hundreds, or even thousands of vendors, presenting numerous risks to the end manufacturer whose name is featured prominently on the label that is seen by the consumer. If any one of these vendors violates laws or operates in a way that is perceived as deleterious to society or the environment, then the reputation of the whole network of suppliers and customers is at risk.
Exploring the web of the electronics supply chain reveals examples of these practices that deeply challenge the pursuit of sustainability:
- Workers subject to unfair labor practices,
- Uncontrolled environmental exposures that endanger people, communities or ecosystems,
- Sourcing of raw materials from regions of the world embroiled in conflict,
How can companies get a handle on these risks? What proactive steps can they take to assess the security and sustainability of their supply chains? This is where external frameworks such as that of the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI), or the Electronic Industry Citizenship Coalition (EICC) are particularly useful. The EICC is a membership-based organization that promotes a common code of conduct aimed at improving working and environmental standards across the industry. It sets standards in:
- Health & Safety,
- Environment, Management Systems, and
It also encourages its members to actively enlist each of their supply chains in the EICC framework as well. Member companies are subject to rigorous audits to ensure compliance with its strict guidelines, and members then work their own vendors to help them adopt the same standards. Some of the world’s leading electronics, communications, and other technology-focused corporations have joined the EICC and have used this framework to begin making strides toward improving their sustainable performance.
The framework of the EICC and that of the Global Reporting Initiative are highly complementary. The EICC is focused on raising sustainable production standards in the electronic industry, while GRI increases the level of transparency in sustainability reporting across all industries. By finding the synergies between EICC and GRI, companies in this sector can efficiently address risk while positioning themselves at the forefront of sustainable corporate practice.