2014 Corporate Responsibility Report

Process stewardship

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

Environmentally preferable substances and materials

As an integral part of the global EMS through which we support the objectives of our Corporate Policy on Environmental Affairs, we routinely and consistently monitor and manage the substances we use in our development and manufacturing processes and in our products.

Our precautionary approach includes the careful scientific review and assessment of substances prior to their use in IBM processes and products. In specific instances, we have chosen to proactively prohibit the use of certain substances, restrict their use, or find alternative substances to use in our processes and products when the weight of scientific evidence determines a potential adverse effect upon human health or the environment, even when current laws permit such use.

When IBM develops new processes or significantly modifies existing processes, we conduct a scientific assessment of all substances in the process, even those that have been approved previously. Through these scientific assessments, we seek to identify potential substitutes that may be environmentally preferable. We believe that the same scientific rigor is required to investigate the human health and environmental effects of potential substitutes as was applied to investigate the substances in use.

IBM has a long history of taking proactive steps to evaluate the chemicals used in our processes and products — first, by identifying potential substitutes that may have less impact on the environment, health and safety, and then by eliminating, restricting and/or prohibiting the use of substances for which a more preferable alternative is available that is capable of meeting quality and safety requirements of our processes and products.

The following provides a sampling of IBM’s 40-plus years of leadership in prohibiting or restricting substances of concern from our processes and products before regulatory requirements were imposed. For a more complete listing, see our materials use webpage.

  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)

    IBM initiated a multi-year effort to eliminate PCBs from use in our products in 1974 and achieved elimination in 1978.

  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)

    In 1989, IBM became the first major IT manufacturer to announce a phase-out of CFCs, a Class I ozone-depleting substance, from our 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 our products and processes in 1995.

  • Trichloroethylene (TCE), ethylene-based glycol ethers and dichloromethane

    Examples of other chemicals that IBM voluntarily prohibited from our 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 our procurement specifications in 1993.

  • Cadmium

    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 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 PFOS and PFOA in the development of new materials in 2005, in new manufacturing applications in 2007, and eliminated the use of these chemicals in manufacturing, development and research processes as of January 31, 2010.

We communicate to suppliers IBM’s restrictions on specific substances and other environmental requirements for our products through our Engineering Specification: Baseline Environmental Requirements for Supplier Deliverables to IBM.


By definition, nanotechnology is the application of scientific and engineering principles to make and utilize very small things (dimensions of roughly 1 to 100 nanometers), creating materials with unique properties and enabling novel and useful applications. It involves an ever-advancing set of tools, techniques and unique applications involving the structure and composition of materials on a nanoscale.

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, more precise and more energy-efficient. Nanotechnologies have been critical to advancements in the IT industry.

IBM Research became involved in the world of nanoscience in 1981 when Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer invented the scanning tunneling microscope, revolutionizing our ability to manipulate solid surfaces the size of atoms.

Since then, IBM has achieved numerous developments in the field — from moving and controlling individual atoms for the first time, to developing logic circuits using carbon nanotubes, to incorporating 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 2014, IBM announced it will invest over $3 billion over the next five years in research and development programs, to push the limits of chip technology needed to meet the emerging demands of cloud computing and big-data systems. IBM will be investing significantly in emerging areas of research such as carbon nanoelectronics, silicon photonics, new memory technologies and architectures that support quantum and cognitive computing. This research will focus on providing orders-of-magnitude improvement in system-level performance and energy-efficient computing. In addition, IBM will continue to invest in the nanosciences and quantum computing — two areas of fundamental science where IBM has remained a pioneer for over three decades.

As an example, IBM researchers working in the area of carbon nanotube electronics recently demonstrated — for the first time — two-way complimentary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) NAND gates using 50-nanometer gate length carbon nanotube transistors. Carbon nanotube transistors can operate as excellent switches at molecular dimensions of less than 10 nanometers — the equivalent to 10,000 times thinner than a strand of human hair, and less than half the size of the leading silicon technology. Modeling of the electronic circuits suggests that about a five- to ten-times improvement in performance is possible, compared to silicon circuits.

These advances in chip technology offer potential alternatives to today’s higher-power transistors by creating advanced microelectronics that operate at much lower voltage and thus use significantly less power than current technologies.