Why electronics recycling is energy stupid, BUT open hardware and modular design is energy smart

Via Shareable‘s Neal Gorenflo:

“We’ve talked about open hardware before, but not the energy saving advantages of it. We’ve focused more on the democratization of manufacturing. But in the video, Dominic Muren argues that open hardware is also as a vastly superior manufacturing strategy from an energy conservation standpoint and therefore is more appropriate in an age of global warming and energy decline.

And while he doesn’t use the term, the crux of his argument hinges on the concept of embodied energy or emergy. Emergy refers to all the energy used in the making of an object, from design through distribution. Electronics devices like the iPhone have extremely high emergy because of the resource intensiveness and engineering complexity of electronics manufacturing.

When you hold an iPhone, you’re holding something with tremendous embodied energy. Therefore, it’s extremely wasteful to simply melt them down to their raw materials at end of life. Instead, it makes more sense from an emergy perspective to design such complex devices for modularity and reuse modular components in new devices. This calls for a platform approach, which is evident in the product line of Bug Labs.

This is a new perspective for me because I previously only thought of sharing and reuse in terms of how they reduce demand for new objects. Sharing and reuse also conserve the energy that has already been invested in an object and the energy that would be needed to dispose and recycle it.”

Watch the videos by Dominic Muren:


Dominic Muren on why electronics recycling is stupid from Karen Eng on Vimeo.


2-Dominic-Muren-Part-1 – Dorkbot Seattle Feb 3, 2010 from christopher prosser on Vimeo.

2 Comments Why electronics recycling is energy stupid, BUT open hardware and modular design is energy smart

  1. AvatarLondon IT disposal

    This sounds very much like the system developed to give a commodity a carbon footprint. However, the idea of a modular system embodying a form of modular constuction could quite feasibly be hindered by the very concept of commercialisation. Branding, concept, marketing and trademarking could quite feasibly be hampered by the use of designs etc that could be re-used.

    However, if i’m on the right track here, lets just say that Apple used something similar during the 90’s when it developed the LC, LC!!, LC475. The same went for the Quadra range, the Centris range and the original powermac range etc. All were pretty much modular in design and could be chopped and changed quite a lot. The result? A number of pretty high profile companies sprung up on the back of Apple, offering upgrades that ended up detracting from Apple’s global sales. Why upgrade from an LC2 to an LC3 when there was a processor upgrade by Sonnet or cresendo? I think manufacturers may think twice on this one. However, the entire concept is in itself something of a seriously good marketable idea. The reason? It’s new, virgin, totally unbroken ground that, if tackled right, could be a global concept. Why? Imagine this: You have a company that develops these modular parts. A customer could buy that compact camera, then decide to upgrade it- with a kit the company sends to him/ her in the post. Alternatively, 3000 small startups all work to the same conceptual agreement (rather like building linux/ opensource). The same connectivity, language, international standards etc. That way, the customer could buy a camera body from Canon, an upgrade for the LCD from Nikon, an upgrade for the CCD from Fujitsu, and they all talk to each other. Bugger of it is, this re-writes the rules of competition on a grand scale. Again I say- where’s the branding???

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