Environmentally Preferable Substances and Materials
Among its objectives, IBM’s environmental policy calls for the company to use development and manufacturing processes and provide products that are protective of the environment. As an integral part of its EMS supporting this objective, IBM routinely and consistently monitors and manages the substances it uses in its manufacturing and development processes and in its products.
The company’s precautionary approach includes the careful scientific review and assessment of certain substances prior to their use in IBM processes and products. In specific instances, IBM has chosen to proactively prohibit, restrict or substitute substances used in IBM processes and products when the weight of scientific evidence determines a potential adverse effect upon human health or the environment, even when law permits the use of the substance.
In addition, IBM conducts scientific assessments of existing approved substances when new processes or major modifications to existing processes are being developed. The objective of these scientific assessments is to identify potential substitutes that may be environmentally preferable. IBM believes that the same scientific rigor is required when investigating the human health and environmental effects of potential substitutes as was given to the investigation of the substance in use.
The following provides a sampling of IBM’s early leadership in prohibiting or restricting many substances of concern from its processes and products before regulatory requirements were imposed:
- Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
- In 1989, IBM became the first major information technology (IT) manufacturer to announce a phase-out of CFCs, a Class I ozone-depleting substance, from its products and manufacturing and development processes.
- Class I and II ozone-depleting substances
- IBM completed the phase-out of Class I ozone-depleting substances in 1993. Subsequently, IBM eliminated Class II ozone-depleting substances from its products and processes in 1995.
- Trichloroethene (TCE), ethylene-based glycol ethers and dichloromethane
- Examples of other chemicals that IBM voluntarily prohibited from its manufacturing processes include TCE in the late 1980s, ethylene-based glycol ethers in the mid-1990s and dichloromethane in 2003.
- Polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
- IBM prohibited PBBs and PBDEs from its product designs in the early 1990s and then extended the prohibition to purchased commodities through its procurement specifications in 1993.
- IBM prohibited the use of cadmium in inks, dyes, pigments and paints in 1993; in plastics and plating in 1994; and in CRT monitors along with nickel cadmium batteries in the mid-1990s.
- Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA)
- IBM ceased the specification of PVC in its IT system enclosures in 2000 and prohibited the use of TBBPA as an additive flame retardant in IT system enclosures for newly released products in 2007.
- Specific perfluorinated compounds (perfluorooctane sulfonate [PFOS] and perfluorooctanoic acid [PFOA])
- IBM prohibited the compounds’ use in the development of new materials in 2005, in new manufacturing applications in 2007, and eliminated the use of PFOS and PFOA in manufacturing, development and research processes as of January 31, 2010.
A table summarizing IBM’s voluntary material prohibitions and restrictions from 1978 through 2010 may be found on our Materials use Web page.
IBM’s restrictions on specific substances and other environmental requirements for its products are identified in the company’s Engineering Specification: Baseline Environmental Requirements for Supplier Deliverables to IBM.
IBM Innovation and Leadership
in “Green” Chemicals
In early 2010, IBM became the first in its industry to eliminate all known uses of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) from its semiconductor manufacturing processes. IBM scientists also developed and patented several alternative PFAS-free (fluorine-free) photo acid generators in 2010.
In 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed restrictions on new applications for PFOS compounds due to scientific evidence showing that PFOS was persistent and bioaccumulative in the environment. However, PFOS compounds continued to be permitted by the EPA “as a component of a photoresist substance, including a photo acid generator or surfactant, or as a component of antireflective coating, used in a photolithography process to produce semiconductors or similar components of electronic or other miniaturized devices” since the semiconductor manufacturing industry demonstrated limited release and exposure.
Nevertheless, due to increasing concerns around the environmental impact of these compounds, IBM began a staged phase-out of PFOS and PFOA in 2003, a plan that required the work of dozens of IBM scientists and engineers, IBM partners and suppliers.
Developing alternatives for these chemicals was an ambitious technological challenge. The transition to the new formulations had to be implemented and qualified across a large array of processes without impacting customer product delivery commitments. IBM’s semiconductor fabricators located in Essex Junction, Vermont, and Hopewell Junction, New York, conducted multi-year qualifications of substitute manufacturing process chemicals to eliminate the use of both PFOS and PFOA compounds.
IBM prohibited the compounds’ use in the development of new materials in 2005 and in new manufacturing applications in 2007. IBM successfully eliminated PFOS and PFOA compounds in its wet etch processes at the end of 2008 and eliminated them from its photolithography processes as of January 31, 2010.
Although other semiconductor companies are working to this goal, to our knowledge, IBM is the only company in the world to have completely eliminated PFOS and PFOA compounds from semiconductor manufacturing.
As a continuation of this effort, IBM researchers announced another industry first in February 2010: development of new PFAS-free (fluorine-free) compounds for use as photo acid generators (PAGs) in 193-nm photoresists. The PAG is one of several components of a system of chemicals used in the photolithography process to transfer circuit patterns onto semiconductor wafers. This materials innovation is an example of “green chemistry” in action: applying molecular design to invent new, more environmentally benign compounds.
With two patent applications and one issued patent, IBM is currently in the process of engaging with photoresist supplier companies to commercialize its new materials innovation.
Nanotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to make and utilize very small things (dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers). An important aspect of nanotechnology is creating materials where their unique properties enable novel and useful application.
Nanotechnology is already part of a wide variety of products—from cosmetics and sunscreens to paints, clothing and golf equipment. It can make products lighter, stronger, cleaner, less expensive and more precise, and has been critical to advancements in the IT industry.
IBM has been a pioneer in nanotechnology. Its scientists won a Nobel Prize for inventing the scanning tunneling microscope (STM), devised methods to manipulate individual atoms for the first time, developed logic circuits using carbon nanotubes and incorporated subnanometer material layers into commercially mass-produced hard disk drive recording heads and magnetic disk coatings.
Discover how IBM researchers Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer broke new ground with their invention of the scanning tunneling microscope.
The company was one of the first to create safe work practices, and health and safety training for its employees working with nanoparticles. In addition, IBM, along with ISMI (International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative) and other semiconductor companies, will be participating in a collaborative study with NIOSH (National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health) and the College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) of the University at Albany-SUNY to monitor potential workplace exposure to nanoparticles during chemical mechanical planarization (CMP) operation and maintenance.
IBM’s current nanotechnology research aims to devise new atom- and molecular-scale structures and methods for enhancing information technologies, as well as discovering and understanding their scientific foundations.
During 2010, IBM researchers developed a breakthrough technique that for the first time gives scientists the ability to record, study and “visualize” the extremely fast spin of electrons inside individual atoms. Similar to how a high-speed video camera captures each flap of a hummingbird’s wing, scientists at IBM's Almaden Research Center are using the Scanning Tunneling Microscope like a high-speed camera to record the behavior of individual atoms at a speed about 100,000 times faster than previously possible. This new technique could be a valuable tool to study solar cells, quantum computing and storage-class memory at the nanoscale.
IBM’s nanotechnology and nanoscience research and development involve interactions and collaborations with partners around the world.
Two environment-related examples:
- The Saudi Arabian national research and development organization, King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology (KACST), has established a Nanotechnology Center of Excellence in association with IBM Research that will explore and develop breakthroughs in applying molecular-scale engineering to critical energy and sustainable resource issues. Under this multi-year agreement, Saudi scientists and engineers are working side by side with IBM scientists and engineers on advanced nanoscience and nanotechnology programs in the fields of solar energy, water desalination and petrochemical applications such as recyclable materials.
- IBM and the government of Egypt signed an agreement to establish the Egypt-IBM Nanotechnology Research Center as a sustainable world-class center in Egypt. Egypt is working with IBM on several initial projects in the following nanotechnology focus areas: Thin Film Silicon Photovoltaics; Spin-On Carbon-Based Electrodes for Thin Film Photovoltaics; Energy Recovery from Concentrated Photovoltaic for Desalination; and Computational Modeling and Simulation.
Featured IBM Initiatives
A Century of Shared Value
As IBM celebrates 100 years of building a responsible enterprise, we look back at several moments that have defined our values and served as cornerstones in our pursuit of progress.Launch Feature
Smarter Cities Challenge
The Smarter Cities Challenge is a competitive grant program awarding $50 million worth of services and expertise over the next three years to help 100 cities around the globe address a wide range of challenges.Launch Feature
Celebration of Service
IBMers worldwide are improving the communities in which they work, learn and live by pledging time and expertise. IBM honors their commitments with a program of new and expanded grants, and the opportunity to join a global effort.Launch Feature