As our climate changes around us due in part to manufacturing processes using toxic or non-biodegradable materials like plastic, more CE companies are giving sustainability a chance and reducing their environmental impact. For example, Harman International (parent company of major tech brands including JBL) is aiming for carbon neutrality by 2040 and 100% renewable energy for its global manufacturing by 2025.
This is an important dynamic for the industry since the personal audio market (headphones and portable speakers) has been blowing up year after year, and despite a very slight dip in 2022, it is widely predicted to return to growth over the next several years. And all those products—and their packaging—will eventually wind up in landfills to the detriment of our environment.
Companies are responding by getting creative, incorporating solar charging and shifting towards using more eco-friendly materials like bioplastics and bamboo as well as recycled components and packaging. Additionally, some companies are also offering take-back programs for their products, allowing customers to recycle their old headphones and other products to reduce e-waste. Let’s take a look at the latest personal audio products that let you rock out sustainably.
Grado Hemp ($420)
Old-school audiophile outfit Grado Labs created a set of open-backed wired headphones with earcups made partly of hemp, which is one of the most sustainable fibers on the planet and is harder than oak when compressed. The Hemp has the same iconic look as the rest of the company’s lineup, but the sound is shaped by the balance of hemp and maple. Given the conspicuously suggestive price, however, we suspect the sustainability factor here may have been more of an afterthought.
Thinksound ov21 ($399.99)
These wired closed-back studio headphones are made mostly of wood-pulp-based bioplastic that, according to the company, reduces resonance and distortion while improving acoustic performance. The sustainably-sourced walnut earcup housing panel and vegan leather pads are wonderful environmentally friendly touches, as is the minimalist packaging, but the audiophile-grade sound makes it suitable for audio pros as well as music lovers.
Adidas RPT02 SOL ($230)
Built in part from recycled plastics and fabric, the Adidas RPT-02 SOL are self-charging on-ear Bluetooth sport headphones. Battery life is basically unlimited, thanks to the headband’s integrated Powerfoyle cells, which gather light from the sun as well as artificial sources and can store up to 80 hours of reserve playtime. The earpads and inner headband are washable, which makes them a good workout partner, plus an on-board control knob and app-programmable action button.
House of Marley Redemption ANC 2 TWS ($169.99)
According to the company’s web site, “House of Marley’s eco-conscious identity was created in collaboration with the Marley family to carry on Bob Marley’s legacy of love for music and planet.” The Redemption ANC 2 true wireless earbuds, which have all the standard amenities like active noise cancellation, ambient mode, 6-hour battery life and an included app for customization. They are made with solid bamboo, natural wood fiber composite and recycled plastics, and the packaging is completely plastic-free and recyclable.
Urbanista Phoenix ($149)
The Urbanista Phoenix Bluetooth noise-canceling earbuds come with a charging case that has Powerfoyle cells built-in, so keeping it charged is just a matter of finding some natural or artificial light. The case can store up to 34 hours, and the earbuds can play for 8 hours on a single charge. Other features include automatic in-ear detection, multipoint connection capability, and transparency mode.
JBL Go 3 Eco, Clip 4 Eco, and Flip 5 Eco ($49.95, $79.95, $89.95)
JBL recently expanded its Eco edition product line with the JBL Go 3 Eco, Clip 4 Eco, and Flip 5 Eco portable Bluetooth speakers. These mini speakers are built using 90% post-consumer recycled plastic and with 100% recycled fabric speaker grilles, and they come in FSC-certified paper-based packaging complete with soy-based ink. All three sizes of speaker carry an IP67 rating for water and dust and give you 5 (Go), 10 (Clip), and 12 (Pulse) hours of battery life per charge.
House of Marley Get Together 2, 2XL, and 2 Mini ($249, $399, $169)
The second generation of House of Marley’s Get Together line of portable speakers feature faceplates made from bamboo, one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet. They also incorporate silicone parts created by “reclaiming and upcycling post-process and post-consumer silicone scraps that would otherwise go to waste,” according to the company’s web site, as well as eco-friendly wood composite and recycled metal alloys. Even the speaker grilles are made of a blend of reclaimed organic cotton, recycled hemp and recycled PET plastic, and the speakers are packaged in 100% plastic-free recyclable materials. The 60-watt Get Together 2 XL and 40-watt Get Together 2 each play for 20 hours per charge, while the 20-watt Mini gives you 15 hours of play time.