We have spent the past few weeks putting together material for a Webinar we're doing today entitled “The DCA New and Emerging Regulations Webinar: An Overview of What You Need to Know.”
What has been striking to me is that not all of the topics are regulatory and not all are directly environmental, but all require knowledge of environmental properties and materials that can have an impact on the product development and manufacturing process. And several, if not all, require knowledge and information that is not at everyone's fingertips.
For instance, the “conflict minerals” provision of the Dodd-Frank financial law passed this summer is more about politics, war, and brutality than it is about the environment, but it requires that information nobody has ever asked for — namely, where certain substances used in electronic components come from — be identified and transferred through the supply chain.
This entails several big problems. One involves knowing where these substances are even used, since none of them is typically specified by the manufacturers that are the target of the law. Another is identifying the source of the minerals from which the substances are extracted, presumably down to the mine. This again is information that has never traversed the supply chain. Still another is the validity of the information: How can we validate the information received, since there's not going to be any direct relationship between the mine and an OEM like HP, Apple, or Dell?
The rare earth metals topic is even more oblique; it's entirely driven by economics. My partner Tom Valliere says the United States was self-sufficient in these metals until China drove the prices down and environmental regulatory costs went so high that it became uneconomical to mine them in the US (and many other places). Now China's playing hardball. Again, where are these metals used? What is the source you're using? What are the risks of continuing to use these metals? What contingency plans do you have? What contingency plans does the industry have, and what contingency plans do the governments in the US and other countries have?
We are also seeing the worldwide spread of types of environmental regulations that began in the European Union. We're seeing RoHS-like and WEEE-like laws in places like Central and South America, India, and state-by-state in the US, among others. The fact that they are all just slightly different should raise flags about two things: first, the increasing complexity of access to markets around the world; and second, the fact that what starts in the EU does not stay in the EU.
This latter point indicates a trend — or a tsunami, as my other DCA partner Ken Stanvick characterizes it: If you look at regulations that apply to your products in the EU and think that, because you're compliant there you're compliant everywhere, then think again. Scopes, registration and reporting requirements, even regulated substances can be wildly different.
The bottom line of all of this is that what it takes to specify, design, and manufacture products is becoming increasingly challenging in an area where we, as an industry, have accumulated very little expertise throughout the supply chain. We do not have the depth of knowledge of materials in our products to be able to calmly and simply deal with all these new and upcoming requirements. Why don't we, and how do we get that? That will be a topic of a future blog entry here.
In the meantime, if you're interested in attending our Webinar on Wednesday, October 13, at 1:00 to 2:30 p.m. Eastern, you can read more about it here. It will be available in archive as well.