While this week we celebrate Earth Day, we should celebrate every day as Earth Day – we owe this planet our care and gratitude every day. The future of humanity depends on it.
This is the 52nd Earth Day. The first one, in 1970, brought 20 million Americans to streets and campuses in what some say marked the beginning of the modern environmental movement. The day went global in 1990.
Earthday.org, the leader of the movement, cites among its victories landmark legislation, conservation efforts (including hundreds of millions of trees planted in 32 countries), the establishment of the EPA, environmental education initiatives, voter registration, extensive research (more than 50 million data points captured), and civic engagement to the tune of 1 billion individuals mobilized for the planet’s future. The UN signed the Paris Climate Agreement into force on Earth Day in 2016, and today it is more relevant than ever before.
At Universal Electronics, our aspirations are humbler, but every bit as earnest. We believe that a successful company – one that is truly valuable to customers, consumers, partners, employees, shareholders, and the community – displays excellence and integrity not only in the products it makes but in how it conducts itself every day.
Part of being a good corporate citizen is contributing to a sustainable future. As the leading global manufacturer of wireless universal entertainment control and sensing products and technology, we have developed a set of best practices to do just that.
"We are working tirelessly to make Universal Electronics the best corporate citizen it can be. And this is how we’re celebrating Earth Day – with actions every day, and a promise to keep doing more." - Menno Koopmans
Here are four ways that have helped us to decarbonize our environmental footprint – all of which include changes we made in the development, manufacturing, and recycling of our products, as well as in the sourcing of materials, parts, and packaging.
The best way to minimize our ecological footprint is to prevent CO2 emissions in the first place. This philosophy has been at the core of our thinking for years and presents itself in many ways. Specifically, during our design phase, our product teams think about how to design our products, production lines, and supply chain so we can prevent CO2 from entering the atmosphere. This includes considering the impact of materials chosen, the coatings we apply, the type of batteries we include, the minimization of waste in production, and the way we package and ship – but also the indirect impact by making our products more durable to live up to the challenges of everyday use so no repair or replacement is needed.
One example we are proud of is the packaging Innovations Award presented by Dow that we received for our retail products. Our team redesigned the packaging so zero plastic is included but the packaging has the same level of presentation and protection as the previous generation. This goes as far as replacing the anti-theft stickers with alternative carton executions. That new packing helped prevent the length of three football fields’ worth of plastic landfill each year.
Our goal for all our manufacturing facilities is to reduce waste, whether this is in optimizing our yield to get more efficient production output or minimizing the production waste. For example, during our paint processing at one of our biggest facilities in China, we have been able to optimize wastewater management by reducing processing water without sacrificing product quality or compromising employee safety. As a result, we exceeded our goal of using no more than 0.70m3 of water per production staff member. Additionally, by using higher pressure and more precision injection, we were able to reduce scrap rates by double digits.
Ultimately, our activities led to a significant reduction in our CO2 footprint. We have spared the environment 24,713 tons of greenhouse gases through our recent efforts.
3. Recycling and Refurbishing:
The recycling and use of recycled materials is a priority at all our facilities. In cooperation with some of our largest customers, we have been able to give a second life to many of the products that returned from the field. Until a few years ago, the field-returned remote controls ended up in landfills while the set-top-boxes were refurbished. We at UEI launched Like New which resulted in getting these products back from the field, recycling the plastic parts, testing and reusing the electrical components. We update the software, re-assemble the product, and test that the product has the same characteristics as the original product.
For example, our Monterrey, Mexico, factory processed over 15 million returned remotes in the last five years. If you were to line up each remote end to end, it would be the equivalent of more than 28,000 football fields! This number of used plastics and silicone are reused in other products, and as a result, we have recycled 667 tons of plastic resin to date.
Based on this success, we took the learnings and applied them to our Designed for Refurbishment guidelines. Now every product we design will include elements of these guidelines so we can disassemble and refurbish these remotes effectively with minimal waste.
4. Towards a battery-less world:
One of our biggest areas of focus is to reduce the environmental impact of the batteries we use to charge our products. As the largest manufacturer of remote controls on the planet, we recognized the importance of helping to reduce battery waste. And the objective we set is a bold one; we want to create a world where people never have to replace the batteries they use, while at the same time, not compromising on features and the user experience
Our first breakthrough is our new UEI ETERNA voice remote control platform, this product technology enables most consumers to use the original battery pair for the entire life of the product. The platform is powered by our Extreme Low Power (XLP) System-on-Chip (SOC) and energy-harvesting technology, as well as our high-density photovoltaic panel. The product uses indoor light and radio waves such as Wi-Fi to power the remote control with features such as Bluetooth, infrared, voice control, and ambient sensitive backlighting for all its keys. The high-density panel performs up to three times more efficiently than traditional solar cells. The new SOC with integrated energy-harvesting enables the ETERNA platform to deliver up to 2.5 times more computing power while consuming up to 80% less battery power than traditional voice remote controls. And while this is a major leap to reduce battery waste, we see this as the first step on a path that will ultimately lead to a battery-less world.
To raise the bar, we have engrained these initiatives into how we work, using the certification of our facilities with the latest and highest standards when it comes to conducting socially and environmentally responsible business. Next to ISO 140001 and IECQ for which we invested nearly $400,000 in infrastructure and test equipment, we also invested in recognized external organizations that help us to learn and share best practices. For example, recently we became members of the Responsible Business Alliance (RBA). In 2015, we already had our first facility in China RBA certified, we extended it with an RBA membership, this enables us to accelerate key learnings and independently measure our performance and demonstrate accountability.
Environmental stewardship measures consume a lot of thought, time, and effort, it is worth it for the value for our global customers, consumers, partners, employees, shareholders, and the planet. It is the right thing to do in our commitment to sustainability
We are working tirelessly to make Universal Electronics the best corporate citizen it can be. And this is how we’re celebrating Earth Day – with actions every day, and a promise to keep doing more.