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Personal computers have made life convenient in many ways, but what about their impacts on the environment due to production, use and disposal? Manufacturing computers requires prodigious quantities of fossil fuels, toxic chemicals and water. Rapid improvements in performance mean we often buy a new machine every 1-3 years, which adds up to mountains of waste computers. How should societies respond to manage these environmental impacts?
This volume addresses the environmental impacts and management of computers through a set of analyses on issues ranging from environmental assessment, technologies for recycling, consumer behaviour, strategies of computer manufacturing firms, and government policies. One conclusion is that extending the lifespan of computers (e.g. through reselling) is an environmentally and economically effective strategy that deserves more attention from governments, firms and the general public.



Chapter 1. Computers and the Environment—An Introduction to Understanding and Managing their Impacts

In just two decades, personal computers (PCs) have become ubiquitous in the homes and offices of the industrialized world. Manufacturing, sales, management, medicine, etc.,—all depend on computers now to function efficiently. E-mail has become indispensable in our day-to-day communications with family members, friends, and colleagues. It is now hard to imagine life (in rich countries) without computers in one form or other. Despite the rise of a variety of new devices to deliver information services, such as the Internet-capable cell phone, there is no obvious substitute on the horizon for the key features of a PC: large display, input keyboard, and personal information processing and storage capability.
Ruediger Kuehr, German T. Velasquez, Eric Williams

Chapter 2. Information Technology Products and the Environment

Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have become critical components of global infrastructure over the past few decades, and computers are now fundamental to most business processes. The global adoption of the Internet has only accelerated the transition from physical to digital infrastructure. More generally, the use of information and communication technologies has resulted in far-reaching changes in production processes and product characteristics.
H. Scott Matthews, Deanna H. Matthews

Chapter 3. Environmental Impacts in the Production of Personal Computers

The environmental impacts associated with a product include those that occur in the production processes to make it. These impacts occur not only at the final stage of assembling parts, but also in the production of parts and their constituent materials. Environmental analyses often put emphasis on impacts from producing the raw materials to make products, such as those arising from mining, metal smelting, and refining petroleum. From this perspective, a personal computer (PC) does not make much of an impression. A PC is much smaller than a car, for instance, and being a high-tech product, was presumably produced by a “clean” set of processes. The objective of this chapter is to examine this issue more carefully, starting with the basic question: What are the types and extent of the environmental impacts associated with making a computer? This examination will also consider hazardous materials that may leach from end-of-life computers in landfills. While this is ultimately a disposal issue, the materials are put in the computer at the production stage so should be considered here.
Eric Williams

Chapter 4. How the European Union’s Weee Directive will Change the Market for Electronic Equipment—Two Scenarios

Following a ten-year battle to achieve uniform disposal of electronic waste in Europe, the framework of the WEEE Directive (Directive on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) was adopted by the European Union in the spring of 2003. It should be noted that, although this framework is binding, it does not constitute national legislation in the individual member states of the European Union (E.U.). Following publication of the Directive in the E.U. Gazette, national states will have to pass appropriate legislation within 18 months.
Klaus Hieronymi, Axel Schneider

Chapter 5. IBM’s Environmental Management of Product Aspects

The International Business Machines Corporation (IBM) strives to lead in the creation, development, and manufacture of the industry’s most advanced information technologies, including computer systems, software, networking systems, storage devices, and microelectronics. The company’s worldwide network of IBM solutions and service professionals translates these advanced technologies into business value for its customers.
Reinhard Höhn, Anne Brinkley

Chapter 6. Environmental Management at Fujitsu Siemens Computers

Across Europe, the current discussion on environmental protection in the information and telecommunications (IT) industry has largely been limited to the issue of electronic waste. The effect that IT products have on the environment, however, is often underestimated, since it is during a product’ls entire life cycle that it has an environmental impact, not just at the end of its useful life. It is therefore important for manufacturers, in considering their corporate responsibility towards the environment and society, to be aware of the effects that the company’s products have on the environment at every stage of their life cycle.
Harald Podratzky

Chapter 7. Energy Consumption and Personal Computers

The annual energy consumed by office and telecommunication equipment in the United States during 2000 was estimated to be 97 terrawatt-hours (TWh) per year (1 TWh is equivalent to 1 billion kilowatt-hours), equivalent to approximately 3 percent of the U.S.’s energy consumption (Roth et al. 2002). Personal computers (PCs) accounted for approximately 43 percent of the energy consumed by office equipment—amounting to 41.8 TWh annually (Figure 1).
Danielle Cole

Chapter 8. PCS and Consumers—A Look at Green Demand, Use, and Disposal

Consumer demand plays an important role in environmental sustainability. One aspect of this is the role consumers can play in the potential greening of industry. Through their choices of what to purchase, they can directly influence industry decisions on whether to produce environmentally friendly goods or not. But consumer choice has yet to realize its full potential as a force driving greener production. A variety of reasons can explain this, including cost considerations, the lack of available alternative technologies, and simply unenlightened force of habit. Cost considerations come into play when the environmentally friendly product comes at a higher price—a price that consumers are unwilling to pay. In many cases, there is no available technology that can produce the good for the same price, while avoiding the environmental impacts of concern. The last reason, force of habit, plays a role, even when the green option is economically competitive. The final consumer decision on whether to demand change from industry rests in the balance between their perception of risks and the priorities that they set.
Mohamed Saied, German T. Velasquez

Chapter 9. Strategizing the End-of-Life Handling of Personal Computers: Resell, Upgrade, Recycle

The question of how to deal with personal computers (PCs) and other information technology (IT) equipment when they have reached the end of their useful lives is increasingly on the minds of those in governments, industry, and the public.1 Much of the discussions and activities have focused on how PCs may be most efficiently collected and recycled. While recycling is clearly necessary, the traditional wisdom of waste management dictates that upstream management of wastes is as important, if not more important, than final treatment. Upstream management refers to strategies to reduce the size of the incoming waste stream by fully using and reusing products before they are thrown away. The idea of emphasizing these aspects has already been codified in waste management concepts such as the “3Rs” strategy—;reduce, re-use, and recycle.
Eric Williams, Yukihiro Sasaki

Chapter 10. Today’s Markets for used PCS—and Ways to Enhance them

The environmental impacts associated with the production and disposal of personal computers are exacerbated by their short lifespan, which increases demand for the production of new units and, ultimately, adds to the number of computers destined for landfills or recycling centers. Extending the lifespans of computers should therefore be a priority in their environmental management. One important and practical way to do this is by encouraging markets for used personal computers (PCs). Computers are normally disposed of long before they break down or wear out; rather, the user wants a new machine with better performance and new functions. Not all users require high performance, however; the most popular applications of PCs (e-mail, Internet, office software) often work just as well on older machines. Despite falling prices in recent years, PCs remain an expensive item; thus, presuming it can meet their computing needs, many users will find the lower price of a used machine attractive.
Eric Williams, Ruediger Kuehr

Chapter 11. Recycling Personal Computers

Electrical and electronic equipment, such as televisions, video recorders, hi-fi systems, and refrigerators, are a part of almost every household today—especially in the developed world. And in shops and offices, electronic cash registers, bar code scanners, computers, fax machines, and copiers have become indispensable. As a consequence, the amount of waste electronic equipment flowing from households and businesses has increased dramatically.
Stefan Klatt

Chapter 12. Operations of a Computer Equipment Resource Recovery Facility

Industrial ecosystems are an integral component of ecocentric and environmentally sustainable management (Shrivastava 1995).1 For industrial ecosystems to exist sustainably, a “green” supply chain is a prerequisite—including both forward and reverse logistics as primary elements. For products and materials to flow through an industrial ecosystem, the purchasing and logistical functions of an organization are critical inter-enterprise linkages. Purchasing green materials is not necessary for a forward logistics chain, but is necessary for reverse logistics operations to exist. Reverse logistics include a number of internal and external elements, including disassembly, de-manufacturing, and re-manufacturing organizations.2 These organizations and their customers have both typical and special operations and purchasing requirements. But within a demanufacturing or disassembly organization, the purchasing, operations, and logistics functions have special requirements and characteristics that make it unique, especially from a natural environment perspective.
Joseph Sarkis

Chapter 13. Managing PCS Through Policy: Review and Ways to Extend Lifespan

On May 12, 1941 a young German named Konrad Zuse presented his latest development to a small, select group of people. Unnoticed by the public, the student of civil engineering at Berlin’s Technical University had succeeded in making his dream a reality. It was called the “Z3,” the world’s first functioning programmable calculator, and it marked the start of a new era. The operational target that Zuse accomplished was to replace the dull necessity of manual calculations with a machine. The mechanical contraption, made of 40,000 components and 2,500 telephone relays, was able to save 64 numbers in its memory and execute basic arithmetic operations (Konrad Zuse Internet Archive 2001).
Ruediger Kuehr


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