Most conversation on the circular economy (CE) revolves around only a part of that circle, and for good reason. In the semiconductor and so many other industries, the greatest and most obvious hurdles to CE involve developing the standards and the major physical and data infrastructure needed to enable the reuse, repair, and recycling part of the equation.
The explosion of the internet of things has added urgency to these discussions: By the middle of this decade, an estimated 27.1 billion connected IoT devices, from smartwatches to refrigerators to light bulbs, will be in play. They will add to the mountains of e-waste that’s already the world’s fastest-growing waste stream.
That infrastructure will be indispensable, and it’s a safe bet that laws and regulations devolving from the Paris Agreement and future treaties will demand it. But there’s much we can do in the meantime, particularly in the realm of data infrastructure. Before touching upon two key aspects of that digital infrastructure, a few words on two ways in which the IoT revolution may, fortunately, be at least partially self-braking.
First, on the consumer side, unlike the products most obviously associated with semiconductors (PCs, tablets, and smartphones, primarily), embedded devices are often power products with longer life expectancies — thermostats, fridges, and light bulbs (a smart LED light bulb burning three hours a night is rated to last 23 years). Like so many Teslas, virtual “product” upgrades via over-the-air software updates can substitute for product replacement. The longer the product lifetime, the fewer replacements needed and the less waste CE must deal with.
Second, on the B2B side, the growth of everything-as-a-service (XaaS), outcome-driven business models should also extend product life cycles. While this also applies in the consumer realm (users of cloud-based data backup don’t know or care how old the servers and drives storing their data are, for example), for businesses, the bottom line is whether you are satisfying the service-level agreement. Older, less costly hardware coupled with occasional software updates can slow the replacement cycle.
For the rest of this article Electronic Products.Jeff Howell, Global Vice President, High Tech, SAP SE, please see EPSNews sister publication