Nimble: Proving That Technology Can Be Ethical and Sustainable

So you’re doing your part to live a more eco-conscious and ethical lifestyle.

You leave your home each day armed with an arsenal of supplies to help mitigate any waste you might otherwise create - reusable water bottle filled and ready to go, a coffee mug in case you need that mid-day caffeine fix, a fabric napkin, reusable cutlery, and your homemade lunch with snacks.

You have an event coming up over the weekend, so you’re thinking of dropping by your favorite vintage shop to find a cute dress. You know that the fashion industry is a major polluter and that buying secondhand is the most sustainable choice.

You’ve started eating more of a plant-based diet and you shop locally when you can. You do your best to support brands and businesses with transparent and ethical labor practices who are also committed to environmental responsibility.

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But what about your electronics?

The pervasive use of electronic devices has become the norm in our digital age. Whether we’re on our phones, tablets, computers, or chatting to our smart speakers, the consumption of technology has been trending up and up for years.

Where do the tech products we so heavily rely on come from?

What are we doing with our obsolete technology when discarding it in favor its latest and greatest version?

Our cell phones, TVs, and computers don’t come from the most transparent supply chains.

And for all the amazing advances and social integration modern-day tech has brought to our lives, there are some hidden costs paid out pretty gravely throughout the manufacturing process.

It is pretty well known, if infrequently discussed, that within the supply chains of many popular brands, like Samsung and Apple, exists factory workers subject to harsh working conditions, toxic exposure, and outright inhumane treatment.

A 2018 investigation of Samsung production factories in Vietnam uncovered alarming working conditions. The factory workers, most of whom are women, suffer major health impacts related to toxic exposure and overwork. Included within the report is that miscarriages among pregnant woman in these factories is very common - even expected - due to the strenuous nature of the job. And this is just one example of many that are shedding light on human rights abuses within the tech industry.

But before our devices are ready to be manufactured in a factory, the many minerals they’re composed of must be mined from the earth . The unethical mining of metals for tech plagues the supply chains of many tech giants; it is one fraught with issues like forced child labor and unsafe working conditions.

An average smartphone contains 62 metals, and every lithium-ion rechargeable battery on the planet contains cobalt.

Sixty-percent of the world’s cobalt supply comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Many mines within the DRC are run by militias who force children, some as young as seven, to do the dangerous work of mining metals like cobalt, gold, tin ore, and tungsten ore. Unicef estimates that around 40,000 children are working in artisinal mines (small-scale and rudimentary mines) in DRC. Artisinal mines are often unsafe and hand-dug. Children in these mines work up to 12-hours per day, often without any breaks or food.

An Amnesty International Report conducted an investigation and interviewed children in the mines. Children reported frequent illnesses from inhaling cobalt dust, which can cause hard metal lung disease - which can be fatal. Many children also reported chronic rashes from their skin coming in contact with cobalt. Despite these known risks, none were provided gloves or masks to protect them.

Cobalt (left) and Copper (right) dug from mines in DRC  PC: Amnesty Internatinoal

Cobalt (left) and Copper (right) dug from mines in DRC

PC: Amnesty Internatinoal

The sad reality is that there is a good possibility that some of our electronic devices, particularly our smart phones, has child labor at some point in its supply chain. In fact, it’s possible that the computer I’m typing this piece on right now was made by the hands of inhumanely treated factory workers from metals mined by young children in dangerous conditions. It feels hypocritical to be having these conversations and learning about these issues, all while using their products.

So what can we do?

Of course one can abstain from utilizing any tech, but that’s not realistic. A more reasonable option is to buy secondhand or refurbished products.

But ultimately, the industry needs to change from within.

Apple has recently stated that they’ve stopped sourcing cobalt from DRC mines until they can ensure child labor is removed from their supply chain, which is a start.

Change will certainly be slow within these existing giants, but there are new tech companies popping up who have centered their entire ethos around transparency, social responsibility, and utilizing sustainable materials. One of these is Nimble.

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Nimble is a tech-for-good company offering a range of portable and home chargers made from plants and recycled plastic bottles

Unlike other tech companies on the market, Nimble has a transparent supply chain, is committed to social and environmental responsibility and is pending a B Corp certification.

You can read about the suppliers they use for each step of their supply chain so you know exactly where the product you’re using was made. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if every company was so transparent?

Nimble kindly sent me their 5-day portable charger to bring with me on my trip to Indonesia. Made from bio-plastics and infinitely recyclable aluminum, it arrived in plastic-free packaging that is fully compostable.

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There’s nothing more frustrating then when eco-friendly companies package their products in plastic or other wasteful materials.

The charger is light-weight, fits perfectly into my little day pack, and provides a lightening-fast charge, which has already come in handy while I’ve been away. The one-of-a-kind speckle texture also provides a no-slip grip - I really appreciate this particular detail as someone prone to dropping things!

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E-waste and Nimble’s one-for-one tech recovery program

In 2016 44.7 metric tons of E-waste were generated. For perspective, that’s about 4.500 Eifel Towers!

In that same year, only 20% of all E-waste globally was recycled. This means that 80% of all E-waste went into landfills. Many electronic products contain components and chemicals that are hazardous when not properly disposed of, leaching into the soil and polluting waterways.

This is expected to trend upward, especially as replacement cycles for electronic devices, particularly phones and computers, are becoming shorter and shorter. The United Nations projects the amount of E-waste to grow to over 52 metric tons by the year 2021.

If you’re anything like me, you have a drawer containing old phones, mp3 players, etc that you aren’t quite sure what to do with. It doesn’t feel right sending them to the landfill, so they’re left to languish indefinitely in a forgotten closet or corner of your home. Or, worse, you end up throwing them out.

With purchase, Nimble will recycle up to 1lb of E-waste for free through their partnership with Homeboy Recycling. Simply fill the bag that comes with your order, and ship back to them with the prepaid mail-in label. Easy!

Nimble’s model proves that there is plenty of room in the tech industry for socially and environmentally responsible production. Hopefully the larger brands will take notice and join them as we head toward the future of ethical , regenerative, and sustainable consumerism.