Our Viktor Wennström spoke to Siddharth Prakash, Oeko-Institut, about the role ecolabels and sustainable purchasing can play in the development of more sustainable IT products.

Siddharth Prakash is a senior researcher at the Oeko-Institut in Germany, specializing in policies and instruments for sustainable consumption and production. He has published several reports on IT and sustainable consumption, and has provided his expertise in the development of criteria for many Type-1 ecolabels worldwide, such as the German Blue Angel, the EU Ecolabel, and Thailand’s Green Label. He also works in green public procurement policy and implementation, especially in Southeast Asia.

Viktor Wennström is currently busy developing criteria for the next generation of TCO Certified that will be launched in 2021. He is also responsible for the quality assurance of the certification’s verification systems, and makes sure that test methods and assessments are accurate and comparable. Here he talks with Siddharth Prakash about the future of sustainable IT products.

Viktor: Siddharth, you’ve been involved in sustainability and IT for more than 20 years. How come you made this the focus of your career?

Siddharth: I think the Earth Summit in Rio 1992 was a turning point for me. I was 14 years old at the time and was taken aback by the magnitude of environmental damage taking place. A few years later, I made a decision to study environmental protection at university. Since then, I’ve worked for 12 years at the Oeko-Institut, giving advice to political decision-makers, companies and consumer and environmental organizations worldwide. It was during my work within the framework of the EU ecodesign directive that I gained deep insights into the environmental impacts of IT products.

Viktor: What would you say are the most pressing sustainability issues when it comes to IT products right now?

Siddharth: It’s the extremely short usage time of our IT products. The majority of the environmental impacts of IT products, including greenhouse gas emissions, are emitted in the production phase. When you analyze the life cycle of an IT product, you can see that a majority of the greenhouse gas emissions are so called ‘scope 3 emissions’ which means that they are emitted in the supply chain. As IT products become more energy efficient, also due to the regulatory framework of the EU ecodesign directive, manufacturing has a much higher impact than the use phase. Other aspects are resource consumption, hazardous materials and e-waste. These are major problems. I’ve worked a lot with the informal sector in Africa and Asia related to e-waste issues, and I’ve seen what kind of problems they face in terms of recycling and disposal of IT equipment. For example, when cables containing brominated flame retardants are burned to retrieve copper, extremely harmful dioxins and furans are emitted.

Viktor: What needs to happen for the IT industry to become more circular and sustainable?

Siddharth: We need to focus more on the design and production phase. In a circular economy, you want durable products that can be repaired and reused as much as possible. You need high quality components and a modular design where the battery and other parts can be taken out without destroying the product.

You also need to be conscious about material choices. For instance, by limiting the diversity of plastic types in a product, avoiding certain coatings on plastics and avoid including toxic substances in materials, recycling rates can improve.