This week, HP launched its new Elite Dragonfly laptop. Even though its low weight and specs are a significant move forward compared to earlier models, it deserves attention for another reason. As HP claims, it is the world’s first PC made with ocean-bound plastics—plastics collected from river-sides and shores to save them from ending up in our oceans.
This made me wonder: does this make it the most sustainable laptop available today? I spoke to Ellen Jackowski, global head of sustainability strategy & innovation at HP and Dune Ives, executive director at Lonely Whale (the convening entity for NextWave Plastics of which HP is partner) to talk about this.
Comparing it with the Competition
HP’s Elite Dragonfly is certainly not the most sustainable laptop conceived. There is, for example, the Iameco (”I am eco”) D4R concept of a partly wooden laptop, which, they claim, consists of 70% reused and recycled materials and of which the production uses 75% less water. Compared to the tiny fraction of ocean-bound plastics used in HP’s Dragonfly (5% in just its speaker), the D4R is certainly more sustainable. But it isn’t for sale and pretty much a niche product and therefore no fair comparison.
Unfortunately, precise facts about the sustainability of current laptops in the market are hard to get. Alternatively, we could look at the overall sustainability of HP as a company and compare it to its competitors—Dell, Asus, Acer, Lenovo and the like.
When we look at their websites, they typically report similar kinds of eco-friendly initiatives to reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions and increase reuse and recycling as HP. So, this doesn’t help us much either.
What we can do, though, is looking at more objective evaluations and rankings of the sustainability of brands. This shows that, compared to its competitors, HP performs quite well as a brand when it concerns sustainability. On Rankabrand, for example, it ranks third after Fairphone and Apple in the electronics category, making it the most sustainable producer of PC’s in this ranking.
Does this make the HP Elite Dragonfly the world’s most sustainable PC laptop? Not necessarily, but lacking evidence for the contrary, we could give it a plausible maybe.
The True Sustainability Innovation
But whether this particular laptop is currently the world’s most sustainable laptop is actually not so interesting. If it is the most sustainable laptop, the one thing this shows, is that there still is a very long way to go. Because only a small fraction of its materials are sourced in a sustainable way and throughout the production and supply chain numerous improvements can be made.
And that is where the Elite Dragonfly is getting more interesting. As Ives explains “As Lonely Whale we are not so interested in the sustainability of a single product. What matters to us is whether companies commit to sustainability on the long-term and integrate it into their normal processes and products.” This is also why Ives is so excited about partnering with HP in NextWave Plastics. “We want to see that our partners are in it for the long haul. And HP has shown it is.”
Jackowski confirms this whole-heartedly and sketches how the Elite Dragonfly is the third in a row of increasingly complex products in which ocean-bound plastics are processed. “We started with ink cartridges because they are relatively simple and we have a closed-loop system already in place. We started sourcing ocean-bound plastic from Haiti in March 2017 and have processed more than 35 million plastic bottles today.” Next in line was the Elite display, where ocean-bound plastic was used in 16 components.
And now there is the Elite Dragonfly, in which ocean-bound plastics are used to produce its speaker. Ives explains that “HP has developed a way to integrate ocean-bound PET plastics into a compound that resembles ABS plastic. This is the real sustainability innovation taking place that will be a game changer in product design and material engineering.”
What Is Next?
Both Ives and Jackowski indicate that, even though HP has 15 years of experience already with reusing recycled materials, we are still at the beginnings of the sustainability innovation. “From the 300 million metric tons of plastic used globally, currently only 3 % is recycled.” In this light, she admits, NextWave’s goal of reusing 25,000 tons of ocean-bound by the end of 2025 is a proverbial drop in the ocean. But their goal is to set an example and pave the path for others. “This makes the Elite Dragonfly such an important use case. With it, HP shows others it can be done.”
HP’s goal, as Jackowski explains, is to use 30% recycled plastics in all its products by the end of 2025—compared to 7% today. Furthermore “We are committed to use ocean-bound plastics in our top-line products and continue to innovate creating new types of materials in which they can be used.”
In doing this, HP does not only have an environmental goal in mind. “Plastic bottles are jobs,” Jackowski says, “By investing in local communities on Haiti and guaranteeing a continuous long-term demand for PET bottles, we create structural employment and income for the people living there.”
And that is the key message. The HP Elite Dragonfly may or may not be the world’s most sustainable laptop. But it represents a change in how a company like HP looks at material sourcing and is an example of how structural changes are being made—in products, in production processes, and throughout the entire supply chain. It is such changes that are needed to create laptops and other products that can be rightfully and proudly claimed to be the world’s most sustainable ones.