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Process Stewardship

Among its objectives, IBM’s Corporate Policy on Environmental Affairs calls for our use of development and manufacturing processes that are protective of the environment.

Environmentally Preferable Substances and Materials

As an integral part of the global Environmental Management System through which we support this policy objective, we routinely and consistently monitor and manage the substances we use in our manufacturing and development processes and in our products.

Our precautionary approach includes the careful scientific review and assessment of certain substances prior to their use in IBM processes and products. In specific instances, we have chosen to proactively prohibit, restrict or substitute substances used in our 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.

We also conduct 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. We believe that the same scientific rigor is required when investigating the human health and environmental effects of potential substitutes as was applied 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 our processes and products before regulatory requirements were imposed:

Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
In 1989, we became the first major information technology (IT) manufacturer to announce a phase-out of CFCs, a Class I ozone-depleting substance, from both our products and our manufacturing and development processes.
Class I and II ozone-depleting substances
We completed the phase-out of Class I ozone-depleting substances in 1993. Subsequently, we eliminated Class II ozone-depleting substances from our products and processes in 1995.
Trichloroethylene (TCE), ethylene-based glycol ethers and dichloromethane
We voluntarily prohibited TCE from our manufacturing processes in the late 1980s, ethylene-based glycol ethers in the mid-1990s and dichloromethane in 2003.
Polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs)
We prohibited PBBs and PBDEs from our product designs in the early 1990s and then extended the prohibition to purchased commodities through our procurement specifications in 1993.
We 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)
We ceased the specification of PVC in our 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 use of these compounds 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 2011 may be found on the Materials Use page of our website.

The IBM restrictions on specific substances and other environmental requirements for our products are identified in our Engineering Specification: Baseline Environmental Requirements for Supplier Deliverables to IBM.


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.

Our company has been a pioneer in nanotechnology. IBM scientists won a Nobel Prize for inventing the scanning tunneling microscope, enabling researchers to see atoms on a surface for the first time. We devised methods to manipulate individual atoms for the first time, developed logic circuits using carbon nanotubes and incorporated sub-nanometer material layers into commercially mass-produced hard disk drive recording heads and magnetic disk coatings.

We were also one of the first companies to create safe work practices and health and safety training for our employees working with nanoparticles. In addition, IBM, along with International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI) and other semiconductor companies, is 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. We believe these technologies can bring with them significant social and environmental benefits.

The following are highlights of research milestones during 2011:

  • IBM scientists were able to measure for the first time how charge is distributed within a single molecule. This achievement will enable fundamental scientific insights into single-molecule switching and bond formation between atoms and molecules. Furthermore, it introduces the possibility of imaging the charge distribution within functional molecular structures, which holds great promise for future applications such as solar photoconversion, energy storage or molecular-scale computing devices.
  • Our researchers announced the first integrated circuit fabricated from wafer-sized graphene, and demonstrated a broadband frequency mixer operating at frequencies up to 10 gigahertz (10 billion cycles/second). Designed for wireless communications, this graphene-based analog integrated circuit could improve today’s wireless devices, reducing their cost, making them more energy efficient and enabling them to work where they cannot today. In addition, because of their ability to operate at higher frequencies, they hold the potential for other uses, such as conducting medical imaging without the same radiation dangers of X-rays.
  • IBM scientists created the world’s smallest magnetic memory bit using only 12 atoms. This is significantly less than today’s disk drives, which use about one million atoms to store a single bit of information. The ability to manipulate matter by its most basic components—atom by atom—could lead to the vital understanding necessary to build smaller, faster and more energy-efficient devices.

Our nanotechnology and nanoscience research and development also involve interactions and collaborations with partners around the world. For example, in 2011, IBM and ETH Zurich, a premiere European science and engineering university, announced the opening of the Binnig and Rohrer Nanotechnology Center located on the campus of IBM Research in Zurich, Switzerland. The facility is the centerpiece of a 10-year strategic partnership in nanoscience between IBM and ETH Zurich where scientists will research novel nanoscale structures and devices to advance energy and information technologies.

This new Nanotechnology Center also has been granted the use of the MINERGIE® quality label, a Swiss standard for sustainable and energy-efficient buildings. The Center improves its energy efficiency with the use of photovoltaics, geothermal probes and heat recovery windows.