Your Next Environmental Challenge? Eco-Design

Feb. 28, 2006
Hewlett-Packard expects 100% product compliance with the European Union's RoHS legislation by July 1, 2006.

Design-to-test. Design-for-manufacture. Now it’s time to start thinking seriously about designing your products for the environment, or DfE.

A European Union (EU) directive that calls for product designers to consider the environment at all phases of their designs is now on the books. It may turn out to be as big a challenge for the industry as the EU’s Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS).

The EU’s Directive 2005/32-EC on eco-design of energy-using products (known as EuP) doesn’t actually place binding requirements on specific products. But it does define conditions and criteria regarding environmentally relevent product characteristics, such as energy and material consumption.

Much of the industry is still focused on becoming RoHS-compliant by the middle of this year (Fig. 1). But industry companies also will have to start thinking about designing environmentally friendly products from scratch.

Technology Forecasters, a market research and consulting organization, says this usually means using fewer components and materials for most companies. Companies also must increase energy efficiency, eliminate hazardous substances, uses cost-saving recycled materials, and design products for recycling.

Eco-design programs similar to EuP aim to improve the energy efficiency of information technology office equipment by awarding the EU’s Energy Star label to products that fulfill certain energy efficiency requirements. This program is now worldwide. Another eco-program known as Integrated Product Policy (IPP) is looking at how to environmentally improve all products throughout the production, use, and disposal of product lifecycles, especially products with the greatest potential for environmental improvement.

Nokia volunteered to undertake a pilot project on IPP at the request of the European Commission with support from the European Information, Communication and Consumer Electronics Technology Industry Association (EICTA). Other companies already are well under way with eco-design programs.

Hewlett-Packard established its DfE program in 1992, targeting energy efficiency, materials innovation, and design for recyclability. Several HP products contain recycled material recovered from recycled HP products. HP also is using recycled materials in its product packaging.

Panasonic has spent $150 million over the last several years designing DfE products, according to David Thompson, director of Panasonic’s corporate environmental department.

One of the most recent examples of Panasonic’s DfE philosophy is its Lumix DMC-FX9 digital camera. It weighs only 4.4 oz, preserving material resources. (Fig. 2 )

Panasonic’s parent, Matsushita Electric, set criteria for accrediting Green Products (GPs) in 2002 to accelerate the development of environment-conscious products. The company says it will apply stricter criteria to accredit GPs after fiscal 2006. The Matsushita Group expects to increase its GP development rate (that is, total sales of the GPs developed during the fiscal year) to 90% of its products in fiscal 2011.

Philips Electronics has focused on five environmentally sensitive areas in its product designs: weight, hazardous substances, energy consumption, recycling and disposal, and packaging. Reiner Jens, president of Philips Consumer Electronics, North America, says Philips’ EcoDesign approach requires designers to analyze every stage of product life cycle and integrate environmental considerations in their design goals.

Sony, meanwhile, has developed a wide range of environmental processes--starting with design and running through manufacturing and recycling in an environmental management system process cycle it calls Plan, Do, Check, and Act.

Sharp Electronics’ 45-in. flat-screen Aquos LC-TV uses five different power modes to control energy consumption. It also uses lead-free solder and weighs 58% less than most conventional 36-in. CRT TV models. Also, 20% of the plastic in the cabinet of the Aquos is recycled material.

Intel has been working the DfE issue for some time, mainly in the area of power efficiency. According to its 2004 Global Citizenship Report, Intel is exploring new process technologies. These include transistor materials and structures, innovative circuit and microarchitecture designs, novel packaging materials, and software optimization techniques that provide comprehensive power-efficient solutions.

Intel says that in the next decade, it expects to see a number of architectural changes at every level—from transistor structure to the integration of entire systems—driving a key goal: to maximize power efficiency at every phase of design.

All manufacturers are working to eliminate toxic substances and reduce the amount of materials from their products. Several consumer electronics companies are also experimenting with biodegradeable materials for use in their products. Tom Dunne, the deputy assistant administrator for solid waste and emergency response at the U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA), told an audience at the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas that the EPA is encouraging DfE. He also described the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which was designed specifically for evaluating the environmental performance of electronic products throughout their life cycle to help meet the growing demand by large institutional purchasers to buy greener products.

Dunne expects EPEAT to be accepted as an industry standard later this year. EPEAT rates performance in eight categories of product performance: reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials, materials selection, design for end-of-life, life-cycle extension, energy conservation, end-of-life management, corporate performance, and packaging.

Much of the criteria for EPEAT were drawn from existing U.S. and international standards such as Energy Star, RoHS, the IT-Eco Declaration, and the European Computer Manufacturers Association (ECMA). The criteria will be reviewed and updated periodically. At last count, 14 federal agencies and several states had signed on to use the tool in their future electronic purchases, including computers, laptops, and communications equipment.

Several industry companies have become EPEAT Development Team members, including Apple Computer, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Intel, Panasonic, Sharp Electronics, and the Electronics Industries Alliance (EIA) trade association. Dunne also says his agency is working with industry OEMs to develop a better information base to determine how electronics are being recycled in the U.S.

Figure 2


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