Food for Thought: Extract on the Sustainability in Metals Production and Processing

Product design should be about creating products that people want to increase their quality of life and that they have to be produced differently [sustainably] than the way they have been in the past.

A. Holder: Regarding “informed consumers”.. personal virtue is not enough… We often talk about if we just empowered people—gave them a more complete picture—they could know what to buy and that would solve the problem. In the world of chemicals, when we have a substitute material that costs more, we’ve seen that our customers won’t choose it voluntarily. Personal virtue is simply not sufficient to change behavior…

Part of how I came to this epiphany was when I was in a similar situation myself. We were talking about the tradeoffs of using arsenic, the arsenic in the gallium-arsenide in cell phones for example, and somebody was saying, well, you know it’s a good tradeoff because this is a very small amount of arsenic and it’s in the silicon and it’s not going anywhere and it’s an okay risk tradeoff.

There was another person in the room who was a doctor who said, you know, I don’t really know anything about electronics but I do know that it’s kind of up to society to make this decision and not really up to you.

He was making the point that as a society, we have the choice to decide if this tradeoff is not an acceptable tradeoff. When I spoken about this to my electronics colleagues I have usually flipped the example so that everyone does not get defensive. For example, let’s just say that all the car companies have decided that they are going to go nuclear [laughter] and they’d say we swear to you that it is safe. How would you feel about that? About your family driving a nuclear car? Is that an okay thing for the industry to tell you “don’t worry it’s safe”? And usually that’s all it takes.

Most people realize that what’s happening is each of the industries, not intentionally, tends to be protective and is not looking at the fact that society can and has a responsibility to regulate these things for the public good.

Source: Quoting Helen Holder from panel discussion on sustainability of metals: Kirchain, R. and Meskers, C. “Sustainability in Metals Production and Processing Panel Discussion: Voices of Industry, Academia, and National Labs”

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