Here’s What Consumer Electronics Industry Experts Say About Sustainability 

Kavya Jhingran Kavya Jhingran September 26, 2023

4 min read

Autodesk’s recent research study highlights sustainability insights from leaders in the consumer electronics industry.

Consumer electronics and sustainability haven’t always gone hand-in-hand, but a growing focus on sustainable practices is changing the landscape of the industry. What was once considered an internal business or socially responsible decision has now shifted to an essential component for success. However, designing and manufacturing more sustainable products is not without challenges. 

Autodesk commissioned a recent research study to understand more fully the current dynamics of the consumer electronics industry and sustainability—especially in the face of shifting market forces such as supply chain challenges, evolving consumer demand, financial and investor pressures, and government regulations.  

Interviews with 20 high-level consumer-electronics product designers, engineers, and sustainability consultants and officers provide a new understanding of their perspectives and the current role of sustainable practices in both their organizations and day-to-day roles. Here are a few of the insights they shared. 

Design is the core driver for sustainability growth in the consumer electronics industry

Most designers agreed that design plays the most important role in driving sustainability throughout a product’s life cycle. According to the European Commission, it’s estimated that “over 80% of all product-related environmental impacts are determined during the design phase of a product.”  

“Making a quality, long-lasting product is something more and more clients are interested in as opposed to shorter lifespan/mass-produced cheap ones. Even trends in electronics are embracing a DIY aesthetic that encourages people to re-use things, repair them, and make them build a stronger connection to the objects—hopefully making those things less disposable.”

—Designer @ Product Engineering and Design Group 

Using tools like Fusion 360 and CAD can contribute to meeting sustainability goals—during the earliest part of the design phase when it matters most. The Makersite Add-on for Fusion 360 helps product designers make better decisions for carbon emissions and cost impact, find material replacement recommendations with an advanced library, and take advantage of heat maps for visualization. Generative design in Fusion 360 also enables better choices for weight, materials, and more based on parameters and priorities set by the designer.  

“Allowing us to compare three different design options and measure how they perform with sustainability: weight, materials used, production complexity, and any other parameters. That would give us numbers to frame our concepts when we present them to clients and introduce more fact-based decision-making.” 

—Designer @ Scandinavian Innovation Company 

Laws and consumers will create more sustainable options for consumer electronics

Many of the survey respondents believe the combination of consumer demand and laws and regulations will move the needle toward more sustainable design and manufacturing in the consumer electronics industry.  

Consumers are taking notice. According to the HP Sustainable Impact Report, their “Sustainable Impact initiatives helped the company win more than US$3.5 billion in new sales in fiscal year 2021—a three-fold increase over the prior year.” 

Government regulations continue to evolve as countries adopt new tactics to fight climate change. Even consumer grassroots efforts like the “right to repair” movement advocate for consumers to have the legal right to repair and maintain their own electronics along with accessible information to do so. 

“I’m assuming it’s a culmination of a few factors why that shift is happening. One being new generations of consumers (Gen Z and others) growing up with a heightened sense for sustainability and ecological awareness. We also see incoming legislation in the EU (‘right to repair’). I think many brands now realize they need to act if they want to resonate with consumers of tomorrow and not be subject to penalties once new laws are in place.” 

—Designer @ Scandinavian Innovation Company 

Increased focus on sustainability is happening, but it can still be difficult to implement

Overall, consumer electronics designers see their companies and the industry taking notice of sustainability. This is especially evident with the growing prioritization placed on material choices. However, designers still contend with competing priorities and companies’ concerns with the bottom line. This is especially true for startups that need to work quickly to get a product out the door. Cost often trumps sustainable methods or alternatives. 

“While I work for a sustainability-focused company in its mission, I don’t necessarily think that our current design decisions are always driven by sustainability choices. We’re largely focused on solving autonomous driving technology and eventually having impacts in environmental sustainability. But solving autonomy takes priority over sustainability currently. Necessity to innovate prioritizes getting the product out there before optimizing the process and carbon impact. Design first, optimize (and sustain-ify) later.” 

—Engineer @ Automotive Start-up 

Learn more about the opportunities and challenges the consumer electronics industry is facing in the new “Inside Look: Sustainability and Design Trends in the Consumer Electronics Industry” research report.  

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