Today is Earth Day, April 22. What’s so special about Earth Day? Shouldn’t we care about our planet every day?
Earth Day is special for me personally because it’s also the anniversary of the day I became a published author. My first book, Material Value, came out on April 22, 2019. I’m considering releasing an updated version next year on the fourth anniversary of the book’s release.
Enough about me. How is Earth Day relevant to you?
Perhaps more important than Earth Day is Earth Overshoot Day. That’s the day when humanity collectively consumes as much in resources as the Earth can regenerate in a year. After Overshoot Day, we are extracting resources and accumulating waste beyond what our planet can absorb.
In 2021, Earth Overshoot Day fell on July 29. That’s barely over halfway through the year. For perspective, Earth Overshoot Day in 1970 (the year of the first Earth Day celebration) was December 30.
Our global population has more than doubled over the past 50 years to 7.7 billion. In addition, we are collectively consuming far more resources per person. If everyone lived like the average person in the United States or Canada, we would have passed the 2022 Overshoot Day in mid-March (Figure 1).
These statistics can be depressing. We can also reframe them as opportunities. Changing the world so that everyone lives like Jamaicans feels impossible. What can we do instead?
Perhaps thoughts of Earth Day and Earth Overshoot Day make you think about how your work in the semiconductor industry relates to the health of people and the planet. As I mentioned in a recent blog post here, our industry is both part of the problem and part of the solution.
One way to be part of the solution is to start with design.
The European Union (EU) is ahead of most other parts of the world in this area. In March 2022, the EU published proposals to update its guidance on sustainable products as part of the EU Green Deal. The plan includes the Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.
Eco-design principles incorporate the following practices:
- Product lifespan—Create long-lasting, repairable products
- Resource consumption—Prioritize renewable rather than nonrenewable materials and increase recycled content. Consider water consumption throughout the product life cycle.
- Energy use—Reduce both the energy required to manufacture products and that required to operate the products. Consider the source of that energy.
- Hazardous materials—Avoid hazardous and toxic materials whenever possible and ensure that any that remain do not escape into wastewater, air, or soil
- Biodiversity—Avoid materials or processes that harm ecosystems because of what you remove or what you leave behind
- Human health and human rights—Go beyond compliance to ensure worker safety and create social good
What You Can Do
There are multiple opportunities for semiconductor companies to help. For example, if you design equipment that goes into fabs or OSATs, here are some questions to consider.
How can you:
- Make your design more compact without sacrificing performance?
- Allow one product to serve multiple purposes, streamlining manufacturing while requiring less space and fewer tools?
- Help your customers save energy or water by using your products?
- Incorporate recycled materials for parts where material property requirements are flexible?
- Modify tools to work with nontoxic or water-based solvents?
- Improve your customers’ yields, reducing scrap while improving their bottom line?
Whether you create packages, materials, tools, or software that supports the semiconductor industry, there are opportunities to incorporate eco-design approaches in your work.
I’m sorry to say that while all these efforts are helpful, Earth Overshoot Day 2022 will still come far too early. We’ve got to think long-term, though. Our work today can make a difference years from now.
Earth Day is on a Friday this year. If you’re leaving your office early, I invite you to get outdoors and look around you. In fact, as soon as you’re done reading this, step outside if you can.
As for me, I’m heading out on April 23 for a brief respite. I plan to unplug and immerse myself in nature for a few days to gain a renewed appreciation for the natural world. This time away from my computer should help me return to my work invigorated and inspired.
I want to keep building awareness about the role that manufacturers can play in creating a better future for billions of people. Happy Earth Day!