Sustainability: What and Why?


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In 2013, Earth welcomed roughly 140 million new citizens, replacing approximately 60 million who passed away, netting a growth in the world’s population of 80 million people--a number which happens to roughly match the population of Egypt. The Earth’s population now stands at more than 7.2 billion. (For those interested, real-time statistical estimates for population and other subjects of significance including health and environmental matters can be found here.)

The numbers are staggering and border on the incomprehensible. They also present an ongoing challenge to us all to find ways to make certain that those just joining the human race have a chance to realize their potential. Without question, it is a huge challenge we collectively face. Presently and throughout history, there has existed a great divide between more advanced and exploitative cultures and nations and the many still developing peoples and nations of the world that coexist on this, our little "blue marble" in space, or as futurist and visionary Buckminster Fuller aptly called it, “Spaceship Earth.” He asserted, and rightly so, that we are all astronauts and as its crew, we needed to maintain the delicate balancing act to assure that Spaceship Earth will allow us to survive future trips around our sun.  

The resources of our planet are unquestionably limited and thus are diminishing as we continue to unleash and ramp-up a seemingly never-ending flow of products to both serve and amuse us with output of the global electronics industry likely to be nearing the top of the list of “offenders.” In that regard, we are becoming victims of our own success, to one degree or another. For better or for worse, the engine of economics runs on the fuel that the consumers’ wants must always exceed their needs. Moreover, product developers and promoters are putting forth their best effort to make sure that as many of their products as possible can be perceived as needs rather than simple wants.

Presently, their focus remains targeted on those of us who inhabit the top of the world's economic pyramid and our numbers exceed 3.5 billion people. A substantial market to be sure and already there is evidence that we are, or soon will be, stretching the limits of natural resources. This leaves half of the world's population on the outside looking in. It would seem that, if we are going to satisfy the expectations of those billions of people not fortunate enough to be born in the right place at the right time, we are going to have to make some adjustments in our approach to the design and manufacture of future products. In short, we are going to have to look very seriously at what we might need to do to create a truly sustainable electronics manufacturing industry in the future.

Read the full column here.


Editor's Note: This column originally appeared in the April 2014 issues of SMT Magazine and The PCB Magazine.

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