Circular IT series - Logitech eco-lead: Designing for sustainability, carbon-neutrality & usability

Logitech is known for its peripherals and software.

The Swiss-American company makes some of (what would widely be agreed to be) the higher-end and perhaps more durable lines of equipment on the market, so even the casual user touching its products might already have that impression of the company. But any firm that wants to style itself as a logical-tech business (let’s just clarify that the Logitech name actually derives from the French word for software – ‘logiciel’) will, logically perhaps, now need to carry that logic through to its approach to environmental awareness and sustainability.

What we know so far.

In terms of what we know so far about these kinds of initiatives inside Logitech, we do know that the organisation is focused on carbon impact labelling and is committed to sharing the carbon impact of each product it sells with a label on product packaging.

Much in the same way you have calories listed on packaged food, this allows consumers to make informed decisions on their purchase. Logitech claims to be the first consumer tech company to do this and in fact, Logitech talks about ‘carbon being the new calorie’.

To learn more, Computer Weekly sat down with Logitech head of sustainability Robert O’Mahony to question this eco-warrior on what kind of challenges he faces when driving sustainability efforts inside a multinational corporation.

CW: Before we talk tech, what aspects of your background drives you on a personal level to be focused on sustainability?

O’Mahony: Growing up in rural Ireland, I found peace and purpose living near clean water and healthy ecosystems in the natural environment around me. However, one summer I experienced a massive fish kill in the river near my home. I found dead rainbow and brown trout flowing down the river – consequences of the farmer upstream washing out slurry tanks and poisoning the fish. Something triggered in me that day to take action. I don’t think I have ever lost my passion for environmental justice. 

CW: What was the first thing you recycled?

O’Mahony: Interesting question! It was probably a glass bottle. I come from a generation where ‘deposit and refund’ schemes were the norm on all glass bottles. But, the recycling I am most proud of is the repair and refurbishment of my family’s electronic devices. I had a natural sense of curiosity about how things worked and invested in a soldering iron, a multimeter and other tools and books to support my curiosity to repair broken devices – such as calculators, music systems, household equipment and even our old family TV.

CW: Can you tell us about Logitech’s ‘post-consumer-recycled’ (PCR) plastic programme?

O’Mahony:  Logitech’s primary ambition is to empower consumers to extend the life of electronic devices, components and materials. In working to do this, Logitech developed a PCR plastic programme and now more than 65% of the mice and keyboards in Logitech’s largest product portfolio (Personal Workspace) are now made with PCR plastic. This surpassed the 50% commitment Logitech made in 2020. The programme has now eliminated an estimated 8,000 tons of virgin plastic, equating to an estimated 19,000 tons of CO2 saved across the product lifecycle for those products.

Logitech’s O’Mahony: Enabling circularity is key to delivering on our collective need to responsibly create & consume.

CW: How does Logitech determine the lifecycle impact will be for all its products, activities and processes?

O’Mahony: The environmental impact of Logitech products is considered at each stage of the development cycle, alongside cost, user experience and technical feasibility. We utilise industry standard Life Cycle Assessment or LCA to gain insights in the environmental impact of our products, materials and processes at all stages of a product’s lifecycle – from Source, Manufacture, Transport to Market, Consumer Use phase and ultimately End Of Life Management.  This science-based approach enables objective and data-informed decision-making on materials and processes impacting product sustainability. We work with suppliers to review material specifications, test products and components and identify potential risks to human health or the environment across the full life cycle of our products. 

CW: Logitech talks about ‘activating the consumer’ in relation to sustainability, can you tell us what this breaks down to in real terms?

O’Mahony: In real terms, this is all about transparency and accountability. We are committed to sharing our environmental impact – at both a company level and at the product level. We achieve this by reporting on our Corporate Footprint, Social and Environmental Impact and our commitments and progress. We report our policies, commitments, goals and impact in a transparent way. Progress is our priority. 

At a product level, we share the carbon transparency of our products at the point of sale.

We believe that the consumer should have access to information that will help you make more informed purchase decisions. Transparent labelling allows you to evaluate your purchase beyond price and features and helps you better understand the environmental impact of your purchase. We are activating the consumer to make an informed decision and engage with brands who are committed to action and transparent progress. We are already seeing the emergence of consumers who wish to engage with brands who share their values – by being transparent in sharing our products’ impact – we are activating our relationship with these consumers – so we can collectively move to a net zero future. 

CW: For many organisations, they’re operating with (and inside of) a supply chain that was created for the last century, what do you think that means for the challenge of working with materials and components and processes in the current millennium?

O’Mahony: The biggest challenge I see is to collectively re-imagine the materials we currently use. Take the latest smart phone for example and compare it to its first generation version. You will find vast improvements from a consumer use and processing perspective. However, if you were to tear those products down to their constituent materials, compounds, chemicals and elements you will find that they are made from the same materials – nothing significant has changed in terms of the building blocks used – we still use glass, metals, silicon, plastics etc. We have innovated around their application and have evolved to a better product experience but we have not lowered the environmental impact as such during this innovation. 

Now, consider that a smartphone, TV, laptop or a computer peripheral has similar materials – doesn’t it make sense for electronics companies to collaborate to discover and develop the next generation of materials that will reduce or mitigate the environmental impact of those materials while we innovate to better products. It is time for us to collaborate more for the good of our planet and society. We will need to break down the walls of the past of highly competitive approaches towards each other – this competitiveness contributed to technological innovation but at the expense of a dearth of progress on environmental improvement.

CW: You’ve said before that vendors inside the tech industry should not ‘compete on sustainability’, what exactly do you mean by that?

O’Mahony: What I mean by this is we share a planet and we leverage its resources – we also share our planet’s future. Companies have an individual and collective responsibility to contribute to a better future for the planet and our society. We should not use sustainability as a differentiator on the market. Logitech does not compete on the basis of being more sustainable than another brand. If we manage to motivate or trigger other companies to initiate sustainability programs by our actions then that is a good thing! However, we will equally share our knowledge and capabilities with other companies to help a collective approach to a better future. We are sharing our PCR plastics knowledge with a number of brands already and when carbon labelling becomes mainstream and part of everyday life, like calories on nutrition labels, it brings clarity to the climate impact of purchasing decisions. That’s why we are open-sourcing our methodology to interested companies.

CW: What is your firm’s carbon-neutrality goal?

O’Mahony: Logitech is committed to being climate positive by 2030. By 2030, we aim to remove more carbon than we create. We intend to achieve this by prioritising absolute carbon reductions in our direct (Scope 1 and 2) and indirect footprint (scope 3). The 2021 IPCC report makes it abundantly clear we need to do more to reduce our carbon footprint and do it sooner. Therefore, we intend to simultaneously neutralise our year-on-year carbon footprint with investments in carbon offets and carbon removals, while prioritising absolute reductions in our value chain and beyond. 

From forest conservation in Brazil, to driving Vietnam’s renewables revolution in solar power, we are committed to responsibly doing whatever it takes to get to climate positive by 2030. By being open and transparent about our impact, we believe we can drive better design decisions in our own teams, with partners and provide more informed purchasing decisions among our consumers.

CW: Thinking ahead perhaps 10-years (or even more), what shape do you think our big sustainability revelations and experiences look like – and can the circular IT economy really come to the fore?

O’Mahony: This is a BIG question and I am not sure I have the answer – however, I choose to look at the next 10 years in an optimistic fashion. I think a collective and significant shift to renewables is key to anchoring our efforts – decarbonisation of industry is fundamental and we already have the knowledge and capability to deliver on this – what remains is the challenge of scaling and the need to address concerns and unlock the potential as they relate to legacy interests – it’s definitely one for our legislators to tackle but it is clear that we are running out of time on this. 

Equally, circularity is key to delivering on our collective need to responsibly create and consume. We can no longer afford the 20th century model of ‘build/sell/forget’ and designers and engineers have a part to play in thinking about multiple lives of a product or material at the point of conception. Imagine a time when we are designing the next keyboard that utilises fully regenerative design principles – only using materials and technologies that can be used and reused- over and over again – with diminishing impact on the environment the more times we use a material or technology – we are not far off from creating this reality – it simply requires our will and commitment to change.

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