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Green electronics: designing for a smarter planet

Stainless steel washing machines. Orange cake mixers. Pink laptops. Electronics today come in more colors than ever before, but consumers are increasingly preoccupied with just one: green.

Green, in this case, refers to sustainable. There are many ways to make a product more sustainable. The carbon emissions from production and throughout the supply chain can be reduced. The product can be redesigned so that it uses less energy and produces less waste. At the end of the item's life cycle, consumers can submit it for recycling, putting it back into the supply chain while reducing e-waste.

Electronics companies in particular can find real cost savings by reducing the environmental impact of their manufacturing processes. By re-evaluating a company's supply chain―from purchasing, planning and managing the use of materials to shipping and distributing final products―savings are often identified as a benefit of implementing sustainable policies.



A sustainable electronics product is a recyclable product that brings great value to the consumer while optimizing energy consumption over its entire life cycle.


Chart: Vampire power. Fact: A typical American home has about 40 products continuously drawing power. This combined phantom energy use can account for about 10% of your power bill.


Off should mean off

A faucet that drips when turned off is considered leaky. So why is it acceptable for electronics to continue to use power when they aren’t actually on?

According to the Electricity Consumption and Efficiency Trends in European Union, Status Report 2009, it is estimated that standby power already accounts for about 10 percent of the electricity use in homes and offices of the European Union. By 2020, it is expected that electricity consumption in standby/off-mode will rise to 49 terawatt hours per year―nearly equivalent to the annual electricity consumption for Austria, Czech Republic and Portugal combined.

A research project that tackles so-called "vampire" power usage of electronics is about to see daylight as scientists apply their expertise and research to tunnel field effect transistors (TFETs) and semiconducting nanowires to improve the efficient use of energy in electronics.

Start at the supply chain

Based on its own experience, research and work with clients, IBM has reached the conclusion that a greener supply chain is, fundamentally, a leaner supply chain. At each step of the value chain, there is an opportunity to improve the sustainability of the product. In the paper 12 steps to a greener supply chain, IBM highlights a dozen different actions companies can take to simplify the process of defining and implementing their green supply chain strategies, including:

Redesign the product
Simple changes can have big implications. Consumers want beauty but they also want to know that products have a minimal impact on the environment, either through energy use or component reuse. Product designs must be examined to remove redundant parts or to replace non-recyclable or reusable components.

Source the right raw materials
As consumer electronic products become more complicated, new sources of materials are required to achieve desired functionality. Thoughtful sourcing of new materials, reducing the use of rare minerals, reduces the impact on the environment and the cost to the end user.

Reconfigure manufacturing
Looking beyond the source of energy, there are ample opportunities to reduce consumption. How is water consumed throughout the production stages? How much inventory is produced in excess of what's needed?

Engage suppliers who understand Supply Chain Social Responsibility (SCSR)
How a consumer electronic company's suppliers manage their resources can directly affect the consumer's perception of a product. Ensuring that suppliers comply with environmental and resourcing regulations means less risk of facing regulatory fines, less risk of contributing to environmental impacts indirectly―and less risk of alienating consumers.

Shrink packaging
Large packages take more energy to produce. And the larger the package, the less shipment consolidation is possible. Improved package designs can also help reduce the burden of recycling or eliminate packaging materials at the end of the chain.

in one year, the IBM packing team saved 2,277 metric tons of packaging materials (waste) and US$16.1 million through innitiatives such as: Using air-filled dunnage (void filler) to achieve package weight reductions; Improving packaging designs.