Tech Industry's "BHAG" Recycling Effort

When it comes to being green, corporate America is often viewed as slow, stubborn and only responsive to government mandates. But this week, the consumer electronics industry on its own set a "BHAG" (big, hairy, audacious goal) to recycle enough electronics to fill a 71,000-seat NFL stadium.

This is a watershed moment, in the history of electronics recycling and shatters the status quo. It is a testament to commitment and innovation from some of the leading names in consumer electronics.

The new eCycling Leadership Initiative challenges technology companies to recycle one billion pounds annually by 2016! This triples the tonnage recycled in 2010 and is precedent setting -- especially in a time of shrinking sales and margins. But consumer electronics companies are clever and competitive and we envision every major company applying their smarts to expand their recycling activities.

Here's why we believe this initiative will work. First, the consumer electronics industry will increase the nation's more than 5,000 current eCycling collection sites. We will help consumers find responsible recyclers. We will only use eCyclers who are certified as using sound practices. And we will promote mail-back and drop-off programs for small electronics that raise recycling awareness among consumers.

To smash the billion-pound goal, we will seek vocal support from every interested group including environmental groups, manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, media and government. So far, we have seen enthusiasm with statements of support from members of Congress of both parties as well as industry leaders.

We do face challenges. Inconsistent eCycling laws in 25 states add costs and confuse consumers. These state laws require different practices and discourage efficiencies and the clarity and cost savings of a consistent national or even regional program.

Our industry embraces recycling into their business model and operations. Regardless of mandates, companies such as Apple, Best Buy, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, Sharp, Samsung, Sony and Toshiba, provide recycling opportunities in all 50 states that use innovative, efficient recycling approaches.

We will have clear measurements of success. Our eCycling initiative will use standards of accountability and transparency. Today's patchwork of state laws actually discourages national measurement.

This first-of-its-kind initiative is for the industry by the industry. We have no mandate from government. Rather our business leaders believe that innovation and corporate responsibility must include sustainable development. Business can do it right when it has consensus, clear goals and the opportunity to pioneer.

CEA created the Innovation Movement, dedicated to the vision that innovation is key to our national future. Innovation is not just products and services, but approaches to problems. We are committed to a safer and cleaner world for our children and are open to new approaches, including public-private partnerships, to create that world.

I am thrilled to be part of this innovative eCycling Leadership Initiative -- and proud that the consumer electronics industry will be measuring and reporting its success towards the ambitious billion-pound goal.

Gary Shapiro is the president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association and the author of the New York Times bestseller, The Comeback: How Innovation Will Restore the American Dream.