IBM’s Product Environmental Stewardship Program

16 June, 2017
Debbie Horn

Climate change, global warming, greenhouse gases, ozone depleting substances, lead contamination – these are phrases we hear all the time in the news. Each of us are trying to complete our piece of the puzzle for a better environment, but what should manufacturers do when designing their products?

At IBM Systems, we have had a product stewardship program within product development since 1993, focusing on environmental progress and compliance. I was part of the setup of the program back then and continue today as the team lead. We have a strategic approach to environmental design and management of products with objectives that focus on developing, manufacturing and marketing products that are increasingly energy efficient, that can be upgraded and reused to extend product life, that incorporate recycled content and environmentally preferable materials and finishes, and that can be recycled and disposed of safely.

We are all aware of how fast electronics are changing, and so are the environmental laws and customer environmental expectations for these products. There has been extensive growth in the number and scope of requirements for IT products worldwide. There is also an increased awareness from customers for products with improved environmentally-related attributes, such as energy efficiency, environmentally-preferable materials and product end-of-life take-back for recycling. Products meeting these requirements are important and imperative for IBM.

IBM’s strategic approach to product design, compliance with worldwide environmental laws and meeting customer environmental expectations is defined by our Environmental Management System (EMS). It is aligned with the international standard – ISO14001.  In 1997, IBM earned and continues to maintain a single global certification to ISO14001. Product targets and goals, continual improvement, audits, processes, and measurements are just parts of the EMS. This framework provides a structure with defined roles and responsibilities and goals for achieving results needed for delivery of compliant products and environmental leadership. The EMS is supported by a well-organized infrastructure, robust processes, and state-of-the-art databases and analytical tools.

The EMS is based upon IBM’s environmental policy with these product aspects:

  • Develop, manufacture and market products that are safe for their intended use, energy efficient, protective of the environment, and that can be reused, recycled or disposed of safely.
  • Use development and manufacturing processes that do not adversely affect the environment.
  • Meet or exceed government regulations and voluntary requirements to which IBM subscribes.
  • Continual improvement.
  • Conducting rigorous audits and self-assessments.

The objectives of the Product Environmental Stewardship program include:

  • Development of products with consideration for their upgradeability to extend product life.
  • Development of products with consideration for their reuse and recyclability at the end of product life.
  • Development of products that can safely be disposed of at the end of product life.
  • Development and manufacturing of products that use recycled materials where they are technically and economically justifiable.
  • Development of products that will provide improvements in energy efficiency and/or reduced consumption of energy.
  • Development of products that minimize resource use and environmental impacts through selection of environmentally preferred materials and finishes.

IBM products are designed in conformance with product environmental specifications. These specifications outline the requirements necessary for materials, parts and products delivered to IBM for incorporation within products. The primary engineering specification is known as “Baseline Environmental Requirements for Supplier Deliverables to IBM.”

This specification outlines requirements such as restricting substances: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, ozone depleting substances, greenhouse gases, asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls and many more.  Product labeling for compliance and certification is outlined. Product or part energy efficiency requirements, testing, labeling, and certifications are another aspect of the requirements.

Evaluation of a product’s environmental compliance prior to sale is dependent upon assessing the product. A state-of-the-art program is used to evaluate products for environmental compliance. This interactive tool used by development and the product environmental stewardship team assesses specific environmental requirements such as energy efficiency, product labeling and more.

The EMS helps ensure timely implementation and execution of new product requirements while positioning IBM’s products for future compliance. As global product environmental requirements change, IBM’s strong commitment to environmental leadership has remained the same for decades. Take a look at IBM’s continued accomplishments in the 26th annual Corporate Environmental Report.

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