The potential for a greener consumer tech industry driven by AI. 4 areas to understand and follow.
AI can play an important role in accelerating the transition towards a circular economy for consumer electronics, generating an estimated economic opportunity of up to USD 90 billion a year in 2030, calculated as growth in top-line revenue. McKinsey & Company (1)
Right now, AI is grabbing some deserved headlines for the advancements it is enabling in the medical world. Deepmind’s release of a database chock full of protein structures (ones found in the human body, fruit flies, yeast and mice) is a gift for scientists and biologists, and should accelerate research projects across the globe.
With 2030’s carbon neutral deadline on the horizon, the view of many of the large consultancies is that AI has a number of beneficial applications to the consumer technology sector’s goal of reaching its sustainability objectives. A recent research paper from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in collaboration with Google (2), highlights how AI can impact four key areas of the consumer tech ecosystem.
Design - AI to optimise and speed up the design of circular materials, components and products
Production - AI to monitor and adjust production to optimise resource use and performance, and where possible, use recycled materials and remanufactured components.
Recycling - increase e-waste collection and post-use valorisation through smart inspection, grading and sorting of used devices to determine their market value and most appropriate next use cycle.
Consumers - AI tools to extend product lifetimes through access over ownership models, business models and convenient repair, refurbishment, and remanufacturing.
We’re already seeing promising developments (and some really innovative companies) at each stage of the product lifecycle (so many that they need a separate article or two!) but one initiative to highlight is news of Carnegie Mellon University's (3), AI robotics department, working with Apple to come up with more efficient ways to manage its old products.
The idea is to develop a robot that can 3D scan a phone at a recycling centre, identify cracks, chips and other blemishes. Based on its findings, the phone would then be categorised and processed accordingly.
Apple consistently ranks highly as a sustainable leader in the consumer tech sector. At a time when only 17.4% of 2019’s e-waste was collected and recycled (4), we hope this project succeeds and encourages others to explore the potential of AI.