Technology that's green from the roots up

Vendors start to design IT with Mother Earth in mind.

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Customers Are Watching

ChiYoung Oh, environmental products manager at Samsung Electronics Co. in Seoul, says that consumers expect top brands to have high environmental standards and that corporate customers want to know about green programs, even if contracts aren't won or lost because of them.

Samsung has a number of initiatives it can show to customers, Oh said in an e-mailed statement. In 2004, the company introduced a formal eco-design process that incorporates attention to resource efficiency, environmental hazards and energy efficiency. The process is linked to the company's quality certification process, which means environmental factors are considered part of product quality.

Samsung incorporates recycled materials in new products when possible and focuses on making products easier to recycle. It has simplified screws and fasteners to make products easier to break down into components, reduced the number of materials used in order to facilitate material separation, and ensured that plastics are marked in accordance with international standards to aid recycling.

Likewise, Sun Microsystems Inc. thinks about disassembly as it designs its products, making sure they come apart quickly and mostly without tools, according to Dermot Duggan, Sun's director of eco-innovation solutions. The company even moved ID stickers from plastic parts to sheet metal, because clean plastic is more valuable for recycling.

Such efforts make a difference, says Jake Player, president of TechTurn Inc., an Austin-based company that recycles and refurbishes technology equipment.

"We're seeing [manufacturers] work with us on how to make the computers easier to recycle," Player says.

For example, hard drives now snap out, and chassis snap apart. There's less use of metals and other components that can't easily be separated, and there's more compatibility of components across the manufacturers' own product lines.

Player says his company can refurbish and resell 80% of the 1 million assets it handles annually. Those include data center equipment, scanners, fax machines, phones, docking stations and computer speakers. The remaining materials can be recycled.

Today, says Player, "manufacturers are designing these products with [recyclers] in mind, whereas five years ago they weren't."

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. Contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

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Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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