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  • Gov't Formulating Guidelines For Environmentally Friendly PCs
  • August 3, 1998 (TOKYO) -- Government offices and private organizations are working to formulate guidelines for producing environmentally friendly personal computers.
    The guidelines will focus on avoiding use of toxic substances as well as utilization of recyclable materials and energy-saving efforts. However, many of the guidelines are still unclear, and PC manufacturers are striving to make environmentally friendly products.

    A leader in the field is the Green Purchasing Network (GPN), an organization of about 1,400 companies, the government and various other groups. On June 15, GPN issued a booklet called "Environment Data Book for Product Selection (PC version)."

    GPN provides criteria for its members to choose and purchase environmentally friendly products. The guidelines do not have any binding force on PC makers that do not conform to them nor upon users who have purchased such PCs. Yet the guidelines are important because they give consumers relevant criteria for selecting PCs.

    The guidelines comprise five sections; (1) energy-saving efforts, (2) durability for many years of use, (3) recycling of the PC itself, (4) efforts to reduce use of substances that pollute the environment, and (5) use of recyclable materials.

    Durability is considered as a criteria to reduce the number of discarded PCs. The above five sections also can be reclassified into three categories: avoidance of toxic substances, wastes/recycling and energy-saving efforts.

    Criteria for Toxic Substances Differ by Maker

    As concerns toxic substances that should be avoided, GPN cites polyvinyl chloride and polybrominated biphenyl as flame retardants and polybrominated biphenyl oxide.

    However, some makers set their own criteria for toxic substances. NEC Corp., for example, regulates 41 chemical substances including asbestos, hexavalent chromium mixture and antimony as toxic substances. The company studied criteria in other countries before setting the guidelines. Fujitsu Ltd. lists more than 100 chemical substances.

    Based on such guidelines, the two firms conducted surveys of parts suppliers on materials contained in their parts so as to reduce use of toxic substances in their PC products.

    NEC also has developed a flame-resistant plastic called Ecopolyca by mixing polycarbonate and silicon, and it employs the new material in its products.

    Meanwhile, IBM Japan Ltd. implemented an effort to collect PC components instead of arguing which material is potentially toxic. "Although GPN bans the use of polyvinyl chloride, we believe it will be no problem if we collect and process PCs containing the substance," an IBM official said.

    Thus, each company designates different substances as toxic. GPN designates only three substances as materials that should be avoided. The issue of toxic substances, therefore, should be discussed more among the parties concerned.

    Recycling to Start with Recycled Plastic

    GPN encourages PC makers to use recycled plastic and other materials that can easily be recycled. In GPN's booklet, NEC is said to have introduced the largest number of PC models that utilize recycled plastic, which consists of 10 percent recycled material (used for about one year) and 90 percent new material.

    Hitachi Ltd. also reveals details about its PCs using recycled plastic in the booklet. The recycled plastic is from cases of its workstations returned after the expiration of four-year and five-year leases.

    Because recycling requires a lot of manual labor, PC manufactures are trying to cut the number of screws used for PCs or substitute press-in pins for screws to reduce labor time. Hitachi's Production Engineering Laboratory is designing a PC box that can be easily disassembled quickly, using its proprietary simulation software.

    Energy-saving Efforts Based on International Energy Star Program

    As for energy-saving, GPN's guidelines cite power consumption in actual use and in the sleep mode, but they do not specify a maximum amount. When the PC power consumption during the standby mode is in accordance with the standard set in the International Energy Star Program, the PCs will be listed in the booklet.

    Electric appliance makers are focusing on energy-saving efforts. This year, Sharp Corp. started a program in which its environmentally friendly, energy-saving products get an original green sticker. The program covers all of the firm's products sold in Japan.

    PC makers have difficulty in reducing power consumption for the main body of desktop PCs. An increasing number of desktop models don't pass the criteria set in the International Energy Star Program. Power consumption is usually boosted by a high-performance microprocessor and a digital video disc (DVD) drive.

    Sharp is looking at its liquid crystal technology to promote its energy-saving efforts. The Osaka-based company has developed a reflective color thin film transistor-liquid crystal display (TFT-LCD) whose electrodes that drive the TFT are reflective. Because the display does not need back lighting, power consumption of the display was reduced to about a seventh that of conventional models. The color LCD display was adopted for Business Zaurus released in April.

    Formulation of Guidelines Has Just Begun

    GPN's booklet specifies guidelines to produce environmentally friendly products. But it also presents some problems. It covers only 11 domestic PC makers and fails to introduce the latest models because upgrading of PC models is so frequent.

    Environmentally friendly PCs usually cost more than conventional models because of recycling costs. Also, it is true that some companies place more importance on cost performance than the environment. However, the move toward formulating guidelines has just begun, including awareness of PC users.

    Table 1 Guidelines on environmentally friendly PCs set by the Green Purchasing Network

    Guidelines on environmentally friendly products

    Criteria shown in the booklet [How to list products in

    the booklet]

    Resource saving, energy saving

    (1) The efficiency of energy consumption [ Power consumption in normal operation (Unit: W)]

    (2) Conformity to the International Energy Star Program [

    Conformity to the guidelines in the program]

    (3) Low-power consumption mode [ Power consumption in the

    low-power consumption mode (W)]

    (4) Energy saving-related notes [ Sleep switch designed to suspend operations of a PC, etc.]

    Extending for long hours of use

    (1) The capacity of main memory [Standard and maximum capacities (MB)]

    (2) Vacant slot for additional main memory [ Description of presence or absence of a slot for additional main memory]

    (3) Expansion slot [ Description of presence or absence of an expansion slot, a PC card slot]

    (4) Notes related to durability [ Possibility of using large-capacity batteries, etc.]


    (1) Recyclable Design [ Whether parts can be disassembled

    after usage, and whether compound materials are reduced ]

    (2) Use of recycled Plastic [ Whether recycled plastic is

    used or not]

    (3) Recycling-related notes [ Whether use of materials for resin parts is indicated as regulated under the International Standards Organization.

    Environment polluting substance-cutting efforts

    (1) Avoidance of use of specific flame retardant [ Whether PBBS*1 or PBDBOS*2 is used for a main

    body, monitors and keyboards of PCs]

    (2) Avoidance of use of PVC*3 [Whether PVC is used for a main body, monitors and keyboards of PCs]

    Use of recycled materials

    (1) Use of recycled paper for manuals [ Whether recycled paper containing old paper is used for operating instruction


    *1PBPS:polybrominated biphenyl *2PBBS:

    polybrominated biphenyl oxide*3PVC: polyvinyl chloride

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    Updated: Fri Jul 31 18:37:33 1998