In electronics, being green is well-defined, although the definition continues to expand. Green electronics takes into consideration the materials used in the production of electric devices. For electronics to be sustainable they should be toxic chemical free, use recyclable parts, and be produced with a low carbon-emission footprint. Making devices is one thing, buying green is a different matter.
There isn’t a section of every store, catalog, or website that delivers information on the green levels of devices, or sometimes even consistent standards. There are many considerations when searching for this information so that it might not be easy, but it is becoming easier.
Regulating and Managing Green
When the manufacturing industry started to implement environmental-based programs addressing domestic and global markets, green supply-chain management (GSCM) was born. Focusing on several elements of the manufacturing supply chain, GSCM includes the manufacturing processes, end-of-life disposal, raw materials, distribution, and product usage.
There are several regulations aimed at the levels of hazardous materials in products, such as:
- The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive
- Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) in manufacturing and electronics
- International Material Data Systems (IMDS) reporting
- End-of-Life Vehicle (ELV) in automotive
There’s a lot going on to arrive at “green.” For example, Product Life Management (PLM) tools enable supplier/customer collaboration, consider reusability options, control life cycle costs, and help ensure environmental compliance. Optimization of Networks and Logistics involves transportation and reverse logistics, while strategic supply-chain optimization views the whole, rather than just specific segments, and includes sourcing decisions from production, distribution, capacity, environment, labor, and the mitigation of risk. Process optimization considers the creation of a “lean” operation, eliminating waste that increases lead time and inventory requirements and cost. Sustainability measurement and reporting bring it all together based on an understanding of risk exposure.
Buying is Becoming Easier
Here are a few of the available websites that provide information, some in depth, to identify qualified greener options:
- The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), product registry assists in the identification of electronic devices with positive environmental attributes. Manufacturers and retailers can tap into the registry to find product offerings that meet materials selection, design for product longevity, reuse and recycling, energy conservation, end-of-life management, and performance criteria. Developed with a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) the service is managed by the Green Electronics Council (GEC)
- The GEC Environmental Benefits Calculator measures the environmental and cost benefits of purchasing sustainable EPEAT-registered products and helps to estimate potential savings resulting from extended use and recycling of the devices
- The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) webpage provides some resources to help identify and select safer and greener options
- ENERGYSTAR qualified products are energy efficient, saving users money
- GSA’s Green Procurement Compilation (GPC)is designed for federal contracting personnel and program managers as a green purchasing guide
- S. Government’s National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship provides a roadmap for how the federal government can help to improve the design of electronic products and enhance our management of used or discarded electronics
- EPA’s Supply Chain Sector Spotlight – Center for Corporate Climate Leadership to learn about flat-panel display suppliers’ efforts to reduce F-GHG emissions in flat-panel manufacturing
- EPA’s Safer Choice Program’s Flame Retardants in Printed Circuit Boards Partnership
- IBM created the Green Sigma Coalition, an industry alliance among high-tech companies that applies Lean Six Sigma principles and practices to energy, water, waste, and greenhouse gas emissions throughout operations, which include manufacturing, transportation, and distribution center operations that make up a product’s value chain.
The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) reflects 50 years in biological toxicology research that evaluated the long-term effects of low-level chemical exposure. RoHS originated in the European Union in 2002 specifically to restrict the use of six hazardous materials found in electrical and electronic products. RoHS standards were adopted into law in 2003 and became effective in 2006. RoHS, although centered on the effects of chemical exposure on humans, likely spurred a more careful look at what was also harming the environment.
Is the Concept of Green Flawed?
Touting some products as “green” is misleading. There are some environmental impacts from virtually all products. They use natural resources, cause waste, and yes, emissions. These products do not repair the environment and even their recycling has a negative impact. They can, however, be “greener” when its life cycle environmental impacts are lower than those of the benchmark, or even better when they are “net green,” reducing the net impact on the environment, after accounting for all factors.
Why Should We Care?
Although the top two goals of green technology are to reduce greenhouse effect and slow global warming, the fact is that there are other important benefits. Once implemented, going and buying green helps cut costs, lowers energy consumption, and improves process control, especially when we seriously consider “net” versus just the term “green.”