Sustainability: Regulations & Standards Galore

Various standards and frameworks are being created to support the efforts of electronics manufacturers who want to design with the environment in mind. Unfortunately, global standards haven't yet been achieved, so global organizations are faced with keeping track of multiple requirements depending on where the product is manufactured or sold.

The list of standards includes many that are well known to the electronics industry: the Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS) Directive; Registration, Evaluation and Authorization of Chemicals (REACH); the Dodd-Frank Act; and others. “By implementing these standards, it makes products cleaner, safer, and easier to recycle (since there's fewer deadly chemicals in the products),” says William Lumpkins, chair of the 1874P standards Working Group at the IEEE.

Some standards help organizations with best practices around creating systems for better sustainability for the organization. ISO 14001, for example, provides structure around creating an environmental management system and requires organizations to create policy statements that commit to preventing pollution, improving continually upon environmental performance, and complying with all applicable statutory and regulatory requirements.

Other standards address product design. The IEEE 1680.1-2009: Standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products provides “a clear and consistent set of environmental performance criteria for the design of personal computer products, including notebook computers, desktop computers, and computer displays,” in an effort “providing an opportunity to secure market recognition for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of electronic products,” the standard says.

“The standard is being updated by the IEEE as we speak, and it looks as if, although it's not set, that they will include slates and tablets in this refresh of the standard,” says Mark Schaffer, owner/consultant at Schaffer Environmental LLC, adding that IEEE 1680.4 standard provides similar guidance for servers and NSF International is developing a similar standard as well. In addition, the Underwriters Laboratory Environment (ULE) is working on sustainability standard called ULE110 for mobile phones.

At the same time, for a global organization keeping up with various national and international standards can be challenge. For example, the European Union (EU) has a dozen or more different standards for collection of batteries and packing materials, says Benjamin Büscher, managing director at Avnet Logistics GmbH. “The EU is trying to harmonize its standard but it hasn't happened yet,” he added.

EPEAT, meanwhile, is working to help end-users cut through the confusion by creating a global rating system for greener electronics. The nonprofit organization combines strict, comprehensive criteria for design, production, energy use, and recycling, with ongoing independent verification of manufacturer claims to help purchasers, manufacturers, resellers, and others to compare product choices. “The net effect is that our standards have had a great influence on the products form an environmental performance perspective,” says EPEAT's Rifer.

Users are also being offered help in figuring out how to fix and extend the life of their electronics. The 1874-2013 IEEE Standard for Documentation Schema for Repair and Assembly of Electronic Devices puts forward a standard for storing and transmitting product manuals used to document and describe how to repair an electronic device. “We believe that we should have a system of free technical guides on how to repair things so that people can make repairs themselves,” says Lumpkins. “Repairing a product helps provide a sense of the worth of the product so that it gets used longer.”

How are these standards factoring into planning in your organization? Let's talk about which are playing into the sustainability efforts in your company. 

— Hailey Lynne McKeefry, Editor in Chief, EBN Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page Friend me on Facebook

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