Toxic transitions in the lifecycle externalities of a digital society: The complex afterlives of electronic waste in Ghana

This study examines the contours of electronic waste (“e-waste”) governance in Ghana, one of the top five importers of e-waste in the world, as well as the site of one of the most intensive e-waste scrapyards in the world, Agbogbloshie. At Agbogbloshie, despite the intentions of national Ghanaian regulations and hazardous waste laws, most e-waste is untreated or crudely processed via burning or acid baths. These practices release dioxins, furans, and heavy metals into the environment, invariably harming scrapyard workers, their families, and the greater urban community of Accra. However, the scrapyard also provides a critical source of livelihood for some of Ghana’s most poor, vulnerable, and unskilled migrants. The aim and objective of this study is to humanize the conundrums and challenges that e-waste invokes in places such as Ghana. Based on extensive and original field research—including expert interviews, community interviews with scrapyard workers and families, and naturalistic observation at waste sites and other parts of the e-waste supply chain—this study asks: What benefits has e-waste brought communities in Ghana? What risks has it created? And, critically, what policies need implemented to make e-waste more sustainable? It documents ten ostensible benefits of e-waste alongside ten very real and growing risks. Then, it identifies a concert of fifteen different policy recommendations as well as four research gaps. It concludes by emphasizing the duality of the e-waste phenomenon and e-waste policy, and by underscoring the political economy dynamics of e-waste activities and practices.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool

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Transformative versus conservative automotive innovation styles: Contrasting the electric vehicle manufacturing strategies for the BMW i3 and Fiat 500e

The automotive industry is a critically important stakeholder influencing the sustainability of passenger transport. How traditional car manufacturers respond to carbon reduction and vehicle targets, alongside other selection pressures, can greatly influence the availability and affordability of new innovations such as electric vehicles. In this paper, we explore the automotive innovation styles surrounding two electric vehicles: the BMW i3, and the Fiat 500e. To do so, we tie together ideas from technological innovation systems and corporate product innovation style. Our results illustrate a case of a “compliance car,” the Fiat 500e, vs. the first mass production EV by a major German car manufacturer, the BMW i3. BMW adheres to a transformative change-shaping innovation style that attempts to promote in-house learning that can create value. Fiat adheres to a conservative sustaining innovation style that attempts to outsource innovation, promotes limited learning, and focuses on maintaining value. Both styles interestingly result in converging product development patterns over time.

Written by Benjamin K. Sovacool, Jan-Christoph Rogge, Claudio Saleta and Edward Masterson-Cox

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