Garmin is a technology company that creates a variety of products such as GPS navigation and wearable technology for automotive, aviation, marine, outdoor and fitness markets. Their most popular products are by far their fitness and smartwatches. The Forerunner 45 is one of the cheaper, more basic watches, costing 200 USD, making it a bit inaccessible for the average consumer. As a brand that heavily promotes fitness and outdoor activities, they should be held to very high standards concerning sustainability. I strongly believe that at their price point, they should be going above and beyond in their efforts to be a sustainable company. I would think they would want to protect the environment considering it is a huge part of their branding and advertising. However, this is sadly not the case. Garmin claims that their “business practices and policies reflect [their] commitment to protecting our planet and empowering people and communities.” But looking through their website, all they seem to be doing is compliance with the law, which is the absolute bare minimum, clearly showing how they don’t have sustainability at the forefront of their mind as they claim to do.
Garmin doesn’t really say what this watch is made out of; the only mention of materials is in the wrist band, which is made out of silicone, and the screen, which is made out of chemically strengthened glass. As for the battery, I can only assume it is a lithium-ion battery. Under their Social Responsibility page, Garmin has a section about their product design where they claim to be “committed to creating environmentally conscious products with minimal environmental impact throughout their life cycles.” However, in their 2019 sustainability report, they state that they launch about 100 new products every year, so while their products are very durable and long-lasting, the rapid-pace with which they make new products will pressure consumers to want the newest item, which could lead to a lot of e-waste. I was then curious to see if Garmin watches are reparable, so I went to their FAQ section. I was disappointed to see that for the most part, Garmin watches cannot be repaired, and while there are some people who would like the company to sell individual parts for repair, they claim that there is not a big enough market for it. The company claims it is more cost-efficient for them to refurbish or overhaul their products in the same factories in which they are manufactured, which they then use to replace consumer products that are damaged. While I admire that they reuse old products, it would be much more sustainable for the company to offer separate parts for repairs and I would definitely like to see more of a consumer push for this.
I was extremely disappointed to see that most of their “sustainability initiatives” are literally just in compliance with the law. The only materials that they address on their website are substances of very high concern (SVHCs), where they state which products contain these substances. They only do this in order to comply with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive. Along with these SVHCs, Garmin also claims to use conflict minerals in some of their products. Conflict minerals are defined by the US legislation as tantalum, tin, tungsten, and gold (abbreviated 3TG). The reason they are called conflict minerals is because they are extracted in a conflict zone and sold to perpetuate turmoil in the country they come from. Garmin claims to not directly purchase any raw 3TG minerals, but they do purchase parts from their suppliers that include 3TG from conflict zones. It is unclear if there is any 3TG in this watch as they are not transparent about their materials, but they do admit that it is definitely present in some of their products. In order to help quell this issue, Garmin collaborates with others in the industry through their participation in the Responsible Minerals Initiative (RMI), which helps ensure that they obtain these minerals from conflict-free areas. While this is certainly great, the only reason they started this journey was due to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which requires companies that are regulated by the Securities and Exchange Commission to inquire about the origins of their 3TG supply chain.
In their 2016 Corporate Responsibility Report, Garmin makes a lot of strong claims about their steps towards becoming a sustainable business. They adopted a variety of different procedures such as improving the energy efficiency of their products, making devices thinner and lighter in order to use fewer materials, and they started using recycled materials in their packaging. I actually received this product as a hand-me-down from my aunt so I can definitely attest to the fact that the battery life of this watch is absolutely incredible. I literally only charge it once a week for half an hour and it lasts the whole time!
As for environmental practices, Garmin seems to only follow the rules of the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), however, they do not go into detail about what these standards are, so I can’t say much about what this really means. Something I admire is that their manufacturing processes do not cause a significant source of air emissions as they do not use Class I or Class II ozone-depleting substances. They also require that their suppliers provide declarations stating they do not use ozone-depleting substances, however, they don’t go into much detail about these “declarations” and how trustworthy they are, so I would definitely like to see more transparency about their manufacturing process.
Garmin states that their goal is to “ensure that human rights are upheld for all workers involved in our supply chain and that individuals experience safe, fair and non-discriminatory working conditions.” In order to turn this statement into action, Garmin complies with the California Transparency in Supply Chains Act of 2010, which requires manufacturers to provide information about their efforts to address modern slavery and human trafficking. Garmin’s only response to this is to claim that they conduct periodic surveys and audits on their suppliers, but they do not go into any specific details about how exactly they are working to combat modern slavery, once again, showing their lack of transparency.
Garmin claims to hold “regular environmental meetings and monitor recycling trends to stay current with recycling needs and ensure compliance in other countries and have established device recycling protocols in the US, Japan, Europe, China and other locations around the globe.” They dispose of their electronic waste through compliance with the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which requires Garmin to separate and properly treat WEEE in order to aid in the recovery and recycling of those products. Something I found interesting when researching the WEEE Directive, is that their first objective is to prevent the creation of WEEE in the first place. As Garmin is so vague about their actions, I can’t say if this priority transfers over to their company as well. Considering the fact that they come out with so many new products every year, I highly doubt they take this objective into much consideration.
Overall, I’m really not impressed with the direction Garmin is choosing to take for sustainability. In their 2019 Sustainability Report, Garmin states that “while we feel positive about our progress to be an enduring, sustainable company, we also believe that there is much more we can do,” but comparing the 2016 and 2019 Sustainability Reports, I see almost no difference in the actions they’re taking. They also state: “We incorporate sustainability actions into everything we do and in all aspects of how we conduct our business. We don’t do it because it’s a trend. We do it because it’s in our DNA and it’s the right thing to do,” which I find interesting coming from a company that literally only complies with the law and calls that “sustainability.” Ultimately, Garmin does make very nice, durable watches, but I don’t think they care as much about sustainability as they claim they do.