With the worldwide buzz about global warming and the damaging effects of man on the Earth, it seems almost irresponsible for big corporations not to be pro-active when it comes to these issues, or worse yet, take a backseat completely.
With many parts of their manufacturing processes and materials usage directly impacting the environment, computer manufacturers have a huge role to play to arrest bad practices that harm Mother Nature and find ways to efficiently produce highly effective PCs while being green. Most importantly, they need to make certain that their position on green living is not all talk and no action.
Traditionally, an attempt to save the Earth takes on a three-prong trajectory forged on three R’s, namely, Reducing, Reusing and Recycling. Briefly and chronologically, this means cutting down on the amount of materials used as much as possible; utilising materials over and over again until this becomes unviable; and opting for materials that can be chemically treated to be used again.
Some of the major PC manufacturers have taken measures beyond these three R’s to save the Earth and have doubled up regular efforts to be green by pretty much adding three more R’s to the pre-existing eco-trinity. Loosely-speaking, these supplementary three R’s are meeting RoHS compliance, engaging in Re-forestation and stepping up Research and Development (R & D); together, the six R’s provide the all-important green arms needed in the battle for Mother Earth.
In terms of RoHS compliance, where ‘RoHS’ refers to the ‘Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive’, this is an initiative started by the European Union (EU) in February 2003. It became effective on 1 July 2006 and is obligatory in all EU countries. RoHS does not allow IT corporations to draw on six materials considered as hazardous in the manufacturing process. By adjusting its factory operations process to ensure RoHS compliance, green PC manufacturers pre-empt the production of otherwise significant amounts of toxic wastes. In support of RoHS, many major PC companies are looking into new ways of creating their products. For example, Fujitsu employs mercury-free backlight LED technology for better power-saving screen brightness, as well as adopted the usage of halogen-free retardants. Both Apple and Dell have also stated that by 2008 and 2009 respectively, their products will be rid of all toxic flame retardants.(1)
An RoHS-compliant company, Fujitsu gets a green grip on things from the outset with its Virtual Product Simulator - a Digital Mock-up System linked with 3D CAD and Eco-design Support Tools - to carry out Product Environmental Assessment, Eco-friendly parts Selection, Life Cycle Assessment and Green Product Evaluation. And, just as Toshiba has its own green-friendly procurement standards where priority is given to suppliers who rank the highest in its stringent environmental performance surveys(2) , Fujitsu similarly only procures products from suppliers that execute environmental assessment of products - including control of specific hazardous substances - and from those who have an environmental management system (i.e. ISO14001) to guarantee continuous improvement of environmental activities. Hence, for IT companies keen to make green technologies work for them, such eco-friendly measures typically lead to the creation of Micro Fuel Cells; Resource-saving technologies; Environmental Clean-up Technology (Photo Catalyst Titanium Apatite); and Bio-based Plastics, often derived from rice, potato or soy.
Going back to the heart of the green movement – the trees themselves – the next additional green R for consideration is Re-forestation. Laptop companies such as Dell don’t only churn out green products but in effect, grow them! With Dell’s ‘Plant a Tree with Purchase’ initiative, consumers can make up for their carbon footprint by paying to have a tree planted when buying a computer.(3) Having the same green roots is Fujitsu’s tree-planting movement: since 1998, Fujitsu has planted more than 1.1 million trees or 662 hectares of forest in Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia to restore the green in the forest lost to relentless human exploitation. Obviously, more trees equal greater and more effective climate moderation to work against global warming.
The last additional green R, i.e. Research and Development, is of growing importance, no pun intended. In fact, thanks to headway in this area, it seems that the direction towards greener laptops will soon herald the advent of screens with energy-efficient Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) technology, since this uses less power and doesn’t rely on fluorescent backlighting.(4) Related to this, the fact that this technology can function without the usual screen frame will doubtlessly radicalise the aesthetics of future laptops. While OLED technology is presently hampered by the short-lived organic material it functions on vis-à-vis the longer-lasting toxin-emitting ones being used on the market now, it is only a matter of time before researchers break new ground by producing new sealants that will protect and preserve the organic materials used as well as create new variants of OLED technology-type products to overcome this constraint, while being kinder to the Earth. (5)
The good news is that eco-friendly technology for a laptop’s chassis has already been actualised via the bioplastic housing of certain notebooks in Japan. One such notebook has its special housing made of plant-based plastic with approximately 50% natural materials. Incidentally, this same laptop, the FMV-BIBLO notebook, emits 15% less carbon dioxide in its entire product lifecycle! Besides this, you wouldn’t be hard pressed to find notebooks with casings made of seagrass, wool, felt, recycled cardboard/rubber tires, or even bamboo! (6)
Apart from freeing up new green possibilities for laptop screens and housing, computer R & D is looking at transforming the rigid design of a laptop to make possible a malleable, foldable notebook by building around the idea of Electronic Paper (e-paper). This is an electric version of ink on paper but it remarkably doesn’t need electricity to illuminate what’s written. Instead, the text can be read the same way that print text is read – through reflected light. Hence, e-paper technology allows the text to be maintained without recourse to electricity and with the option of changing the text afterwards!
Of course, great, versatile designs will only take you so far, unless they can pack a punch in the power department too. Researchers know this and that’s why there are already laptops out there that run on solar-powered options ranging from portable photovoltaic packs to solar cell battery savers. (7)Therefore, it stands to reason that the R & D teams of PC companies most certainly do have solar-powered notebooks on their agenda. Meanwhile though, it makes sense to gravitate towards productised energy-saving technologies such as those used in Fujitsu’s DESKPOWER PC series. This brings us to a discussion on one of the three staple green R’s – Reduce.
Leaving power-hungry laptops behind, PC manufacturers are focusing their energies on developing PCs with power-management technology that lets them automatically drift off into sleep mode when not being used, resulting in much power-savings coupled with the amazing ability to bounce back to life promptly. (8)While this doesn’t sound all that impressive, such Intel® Core™2 Duo processor PCs produced by Apple, Dell, Gateway, Fujitsu and HP stand in stark contrast to normal computers that still steadily sap power even when not in use; thus, it is unsurprising that the former have won Silver and Gold ratings from Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT)(9), which government technology purchasers use to evaluate computers, notebooks and monitors based on their environmental attributes. EPEAT-registered computers come with less cadmium, lead and mercury to benefit both technology users and the environment while being efficient energy-wise as well as easier to upgrade and recycle. (10)
Another popular guideline which keeps tabs on energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions is ENERGY STAR(11), which is conferred on PCs that use 25 to 50% less energy without compromising quality or performance(12). An example of a PC company that has done well in this area is Fujitsu, as its Stylistic ST 5100 Tablet, LifeBook P1610 and LifeBook P7230 have all attained this distinction. (13)Incidentally, Fujitsu notebooks increasingly come with an ECO button in the quick launch bar so that users can simply hit the dial to power out/on as they need and not waste unnecessary energy. That being said, it should thus come as no surprise that Fujitsu is one of the sponsor companies for the Climate Savers Computing Initiative formed in 2007. A non-profit group of eco-conscious consumers, businesses and conservation organisations dedicated to improving the power efficiency of computers and reducing their energy consumption, this group is already more than a hundred companies and organisations strong. (14)Generally committed to reducing consumption all round, Fujitsu also guarantees that its factories run on a Green Factory Concept wherein energy-saving production equipment reducing water, gas and chemical consumption as well as minimising risk is used.
Although seeming inconsequential next to high profile power-saving awareness campaigns, for example, ‘Switch off PC Day’, such energy-saving mechanisms actually promote eco-friendly consciousness steadily and do more in the long-run to save energy without imprudently curtailing productivity on a given day.
Needless to say, green reduction goes beyond electrical consumption, especially since going entirely paperless is still a long way off. Hence, it is not unheard of for PC companies to involve their staff in the corporate green initiatives through something as simple as saving paper. For instance, staff are encouraged to think before printing and to spread this green message electronically a la a simple and yet effective message in their signature block:
Addressing the other popular green R, certain IT companies advocate Re-using old office materials or selling them at a substantially reduced amount to guard against wastage and precipitated surplus. Sometimes, to give back to the community, these items are donated to social welfare organisations or homes that have a greater need for them and can still benefit from their use without incurring hefty expenditure.
One of the basic tenets of eco-friendly behaviour, the final green R, Recycling, comes close to being a non-negotiable practice amongst green stalwarts; and, if global legislation moves the way of what’s happening in the US, it thankfully will become so for corporation, especially negligent ones.(15)Amongst IT manufacturers, Apple, Canon, Dell, Gateway, HP, IBM and Fujitsu wisely believe in Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and consequently belong to the Product Recycling Program, which facilitates recycling and the trade-in of tired electronic products.(16) Such tie-ups not only help people cultivate green habits in their daily lives but also alleviate the problem of electronic scrap piling up as a result of the explosive worldwide consumption of electronic goods. Related to this, PC companies, for example, Toshiba, also have active programmes to ensure that outmoded PCs are discarded in an environmentally appropriate way.(17) In addition, continually stepping up efforts to forge collaborations and spearhead similar recycling initiatives, laptop companies such as Fujitsu customarily utilise recycled plastic materials and routinely recycle used notebook housings into new ones with magnesium alloys.
The various green R’s discussed here certainly value-add to global eco-friendliness; however, the perfect green scenario IT manufacturers strive towards is a zero-waste situation, where all components are biodegradable so as to do away with any type of environmental footprint. While attaining this ideal will take time and effort, through its many winning instances of green living, Fujitsu has demonstrated that it has teamed up with other PC companies to embrace a healthier environment for all. Moreover, as a leader in PC technology, Fujitsu is convinced that its trailblazing success will inspire its peers and other corporations lagging behind to join in the fight to save the Earth - and to safeguard our own health and well-being.
This article was brought to you by Fujitsu PC Asia Pacific.
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