Mapping the environmental costs of AI.

A series curated by Melissa Gregg for ADM+S.

The need for practical, accurate knowledge of software’s physical dependencies on hardware has never been so urgent. As scholars and activists struggle to keep pace with the hype attached to new technologies by evangelists, the ongoing data spectacle threatens to distract from the ecological impacts of widespread, energy intensive electronics. Supply chains of finite resources feed engineers’ visions of the future, and face increasing strain and conflict as a silicon arms race transpires across borders. The geopolitics of the AI revolution requires urgent attention from the social and human sciences, given the substantial number of livelihoods dependent on technology manufacturing, distribution and consumption in every part of the globe.

Electronics Ecologies is a series of in-person workshops, expert discussions and accompanying livestreams that will bring environmental questions to the forefront of AI scholarship. Researchers, activists, technologists and policy professionals will map the supply chain and life cycle of electronics from a range of disciplinary perspectives to produce new networks, insights, standards and priorities to inform the problem and potential of sustainable electronics.

Each Electronics Ecologies event will be organised according to a theme that reflects a step in the life cycle of computer hardware. Researchers are invited to submit papers to be considered for selection and presentation, as well as publications arising. Scholars in the fields of cultural history, geography, media & communication, law, gender, indigenous and socio-technical studies are particularly welcome to complement the dominance of majority male engineering voices in debates about the future of technology and its uses.

The location of these discussions in the Asia-Pacific draws attention to the vast logistics network fueling the AI imaginary and the many forms of labor it employs and empowers. Electronics ecologies have always been distributed – it is the history of Silicon Valley profit seeking that led to this fact – despite today’s patriotic appeals from corporations looking to “reshore” and expand operations through government subsidies.

This series traces electronics elements back to their source so that technology use is once more a matter of material supply and demand. Only by placing computing within its geological, ecological and human context can we hope to achieve the vast energy and lifestyle changes that will lead to technology design and use in livable environments.


In 2023, Dr Melissa Gregg joins the ADM+S Centre as a Senior Industry Fellow, leveraging her decade-long experience in the tech industry and forging new collaborations between communications studies, cultural geography, and the environmental humanities.

The primary objective of this Fellowship is the ELECTRONICS< > ECOLOGIES workshop series, providing strategic research outcomes and specialised training in sustainable electronics design and hardware studies, and foster a growing international community of scholars focused on exploring alternative economies of technology use and reuse, including diverse cultural practices of repair.

By hosting Mel at ADM+S, this collaboration takes advantage of Australia’s proximity to the vast hardware ecosystem in the Asia region, which plays a crucial role in high-tech assembly, testing, manufacturing, and distribution. Additionally, the collaboration capitalises on Mel’s background and knowledge of product design and distribution in the Silicon Valley, which historically obscures environmental accountability through offshoring and complex supply chain relationships.


Tentative schedule – topics, dates, places subject to change:

  • Repair – Rights, standards & services for extended product life – 30 August 2023, BRISBANE
  • Waste – Electronics discards, reuse & recycling – October 2023, SYDNEY
  • Energy – Fossil free hardware and software – November 2023, MELBOURNE
  • Manufacturing – Assembly, test and supply – December 2023, SINGAPORE
  • Land – Rare earth, extraction, borders, sovereignty – TBC 2024
Moss grows over computer motherboard

Electronics <> Ecologies #2 - WASTE

Monday 30 October 2023
University of Technology Sydney

Organisers: Melissa Gregg (ADM+S, RMIT University)

Speakers: Prof Gay Hawkins (Western Sydney University), Sarah Kim (E-Reuse Services), Adam Minter (Author of Secondhand and Junkyard Planet), Prof Cameron Tonkinwise (UTS), Michael Youngblood (Author of Rethinking Users)

In Reassembling Rubbish, Josh Lepawsky argues that a more democratic electronics industry would involve “forms of public decision making in design and manufacturing” and that “production itself must be much more radically politicized.” To participate in reimagining electronics production, however, “citizens need access to data about wastes arising upstream in resource extraction and manufacturing” to counter the usual emphasis on downstream e-waste and recycling.

The second event in the Electronics < > Ecologies series for ADM+S, WASTE advances this agenda by exploring the material discards that attend each step of the supply chain for computational devices. Interrogating the current turn to circular design as a way out of the waste problem, we will focus on the very definition of waste that the electronics industry has adopted. The aim is to reveal blindspots, policy weaknesses, and problems that may arise as automated decision-making begins to influence product design, manufacturing and disposal.

Australia has one of the highest e-waste rates in the world. And while neighbouring countries have substantial markets for informal reuse and resale, current international regulations fall short of facilitating a legitimate secondary market for electronics due to outdated notions of “developing” economies’ needs.

Recycling is poor consolation for the environmental damage already wrought in the production and refinement of rare resources in technology supply chains. WASTE invites industry practitioners, designers, journalists and activists to join pioneers in the field of waste and discard studies to explore these issues, documenting the geopolitical and environmental dependencies involved in material extraction, use, reuse and recycling. Experiments that foreground the value of electronics discards and best practices for product stewardship are particularly welcome, to show the ongoing potential of technology’s many lives and afterlives.

Learning from already existing circular economies in the Asia-Pacific, and emerging best practices in sustainable user experience design, WASTE will share theories and approaches that support productive parasitism and durability as design priorities for electronics.


Researchers interested in being considered for a select number of presentation slots are invited to submit a 2-page position paper by 21 September 2023. Learn more.

Electronics <> Ecologies #1 - REPAIR

Wednesday 30 August 2023
The Ship Inn, South Bank Campus
Griffith University, South Bank Campus

Brisbane, Australia

Organisers: Melissa Gregg (ADM+S, RMIT University) & Leanne Wiseman (Griffith University)

Speakers: Josh Lepawsky (Memorial University of Newfoundland), Jack Linchuan Qiu (Nanyang Technological University) + industry guests

Is electronics repair a right? And if so, who needs it?

Consumers’, advocates’, and resellers’ demands for a “Right to Repair” seems to be gaining broader acceptance. Policymakers around the world have responded to campaigns from groups including iFixit and The Repair Association with repairability ratings and guides, effectively discouraging manufacturers from continuing restrictive features such as proprietary fasteners and soldered-in components. A new wave of startups including Fairphone and Framework have found a significant and growing market for durable consumer electronics, and have provoked a range of responses from established players who are now promoting repairable product concepts, “circular” design principles and a growing marketplace for parts, tools and manuals.

But even if a robust right to repair was enshrined by governments everywhere, would this stem the flood of e-waste generated by the existing business model for computer hardware? AI is just the latest in a long line of software hype cycles that have accelerated hardware obsolescence, created increased demand for specialized systems and components, and disincentivized repair and reuse. Are companies moving fast enough to arrest the amount of physical hardware exhausted and abandoned in the move to a data-centric economy?

Given our dwindling supply of rare earth minerals, emissions from manufacturing and transport, and the staggering amount of electronics either discarded or sent to hibernation globally every day, the benefits of keeping electronic devices in circulation for as long as possible seem obvious. But proprietary software, especially when deployed by vertically-integrated firms, erects barriers to the many business opportunities, digital inclusion benefits and sustainable livelihoods that a healthy repair ecosystem creates.

REPAIR will bring together experts, industry practitioners, activists and emerging researchers to discuss the ecological impact of current technology consumption, and the planetary problem of electronics repair. This event gets to the heart of the repair debate, asking: Can repairable electronics really solve the problem of product obsolescence? And what does electronics repair look like at scale?


Electronics < > Ecologies is presented by Melissa Gregg for the ARC Centre of Excellence for Automated Decision-Making and Society (ADM+S).

Melissa Gregg

Melissa Gregg

Melissa is a consultant on sustainable and responsible technology design and an International Advisory Board Member at the ADM+S Centre. For the past decade, she led user experience research and sustainability strategy in various groups at Intel, after a career in Australian academia. She is author and co-editor of over 60 publications, including Media and Management (Meson 2021), Counterproductive: Time Management in the Knowledge Economy (Duke UP 2018), Work’s Intimacy (Polity 2011) and The Affect Theory Reader (Duke UP 2010). In 2023, she is Visiting Professor at RMIT.


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