Greening the Personal Computer

The importance of developing a Green Computer can best be understood in relation to the impact of the IT industry on the environment and society.

The Greenpeace web site (Click Here) suggests that - by 2010 there will be 716 million computers in use, including 178 million new users in China and 80 million in India. The breakneck speed of technological developments - and their inbuilt obsolescence - is constantly reducing the lifespan of PCs and peripherals. The average lifespan of a PC, in 1997, was 6 years – but, by 2005, this had fallen to only 2 years. This has resulted in a growing E-waste problem, which has further escalated a serious environmental and social problem.

The US exports 50%-80% of its electronic waste (as do most industrialised countries) to less-developed countries that do not have the infrastructure to recycle, manage or dispose of this waste safely. This is having a significant impact on the health and environmental sustainability of these regions - and the situation is likely to get worse.

The development of a Green Computer - one that contains no toxic waste and is relatively easy to reuse or recycle - is a persistent dream for environmentally aware IT developers. Over the past 16 years, a number of computer manufacturers have claimed one or more of their products to be more or less “green”.

Some models have, indeed, secured one or more of the many energy and environmental labels available on a world-wide basis. One notable example is the Siemens Nixdorf PCD-4Ls (1993), which Siemens described the as “the world’s first Green PC”. This model was produced - “using recyclable materials and claimed to have an energy consumption of up to 90% less than earlier PC’s, without any noticeable effect on functionality and processing power”.

The manufacture of a Green Computer has also been a long-standing aspiration of Multimedia Computer Systems Ltd. (MicroPro). Paul Maher and Anne Galligan set up a small family company in 1991 and, inspired by a strong environmental ethos, MicroPro today employs over 22 staff. The company set out to define and develop Europe’s first Green Computer. From Rathfarnham in South Dublin, they manufacture and retail their own range of computer systems, software packages, networking and peripherals. They also provide a repair and maintenance service, which has helped extend the operational lifetime of equipment sold.

In 1999, the company sought and received support from Enterprise Ireland - under the Environmentally Superior Products (ESP) Programme (part-funded by European Regional Development Funds). As part of this Programme, MicroPro was able to carry out a feasibility study of the environmental, technical, legal, marketing and cost implications of greening their current models. The Feasibility Study was carried out by EMA International (Dublin) on their behalf.

This study examined a number of areas where improvement was possible, including -

the extension of the operational life of the hardware, via an upgradable chassis with modular interface design

developing the assembly potential of the design to increase recycling and reuse options – and
increasing the energy efficiency of the current model.

In addition, a simplified Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) was undertaken to establish and assess the opportunities for reducing environmental impact - together with a review of the environmental performance of competing PC manufacturers, to determine the existing status of the market and a review of customer requirements, including the importance of environmental performance. Compliance with the European Eco-Label for PCs - as well as future legislative obligations - was also ascertained, as well as suggestions on the technical and cost implications of improvement.

The project culminated in 2000, with the development of a new model - the MicroPro XPC - which incorporated most of these recommendations. This model became MicroPro’s main production line, with about 200 machines manufactured every year.

In 2001, Project HEATSUN was formed - as a Partnership comprising 3 local authorities, 2 private companies and 2 social economy enterprises.

Dublin City Council (Lead Partner) was awarded funding under the LIFE Environment Programme for the development of an integrated project based in the Greater Dublin region, to reduce, reuse and recycle IT waste. The Project included a number of targets, which were aimed at pre-empting the objectives of three European Directives - the Waste Electric and Electronic Equipment (WEEE), the Reduction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) and the Energy Using Products (EuP) Directives - as well as achieving added social value through training and job creation.

The targets were -

setting up 5 collection points for IT waste
recycling 20,000 items of IT waste (prior to the implementation of the WEEE Directive)
reuse of 2,000 items of IT waste
creation of 20 jobs and 20 vocational training opportunities
development of a Green Computer
development of a sustainable system for IT take-back and reuse
public awareness and dissemination of the above.

The Work Packages relating to the development of a Green Computer - and the development of a sustainable system for take-back and reuse of IT equipment – were, initially, allocated to Apple Computers, who participated in the initial proposal. However, due to legal complications, Apple Computers withdrew from the Project in 2002. The Partners then identified MicroPro and offered to incorporate them into the Project in early 2003. At the time of joining the Project, MicroPro was already planning to develop a greener computer – so, taking on these tasks for Project HEATSUN fitted ‘like a glove’.

The LIFE Office accepted their incorporation in 2004 and this allowed the development of the Green Computer to proceed at full tilt. Project HEATSUN agreed to support and help to progress MicroPro’s pioneering work in the following ways -

making available and helping to secure additional financial resources

commissioning relevant support from specialised agencies on the development of the Green PC (R&D;)
promoting and disseminating progress on the Green PC as it unfolded.

In 2004, with support from Project HEATSUN, MicroPro secured additional funding under the Cleaner Greener Production Programme (CGPP), managed by the Environment Protection Agency (EPA). This support has helped to meet some of the company’s costs in developing the Green PC.

In addition, Project HEATSUN commissioned Research and Development from the following agencies -

  • KERP Center of Excellence Electronics & Environment, Vienna
    KERP undertook to carry out a comparative Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) of the two MicroPro models - the XPC and the new IAMECO Prototype. This LCA aimed to identify, analyse and evaluate the ecological impact of the two models throughout their entire lifespan - in relation to allocation of raw materials, assembly, distribution, use, end-of-life and recycling. The LCA would be mainly based on energy indices (a universal means of gauging environmental impact). The aim of this study was to identify the shortcomings of each model, so that recommendations could be made for improvement.

    KERP also undertook to carry out a market analysis of the Green PC and its acceptance by customers. MicroPro’s sales experience was been analysed and compared with current market survey results, which takes into account relevant factors (such as how much consideration is given to the environment when considering a purchase). The report also intends to make recommendations for a market strategy for MicroPro.

    In addition, KERP has assessed the IAMECO PC from the point of view of its recycling and reuse potential. This analysis has been carried out making use of KERP’s software package “ProdTect”, which analyses the recycling potential of products and their cost/profit and recycling/recovery rates. KERP would also advise on design ideas - making proposals to improve design in line with the findings of the above research.
  • University of Limerick
    Department of Electronic and Computer Engineering (UL ECE)

    The UL ECE is one of the most notable academic and technical institutions in Ireland dealing with IT. It is also notable for its linking of environmental and electronic engineering issues. Dr. Colin Fitzpatrick and his team have mobilised the Department’s considerable knowledge and expertise to advise and support MicroPro in all matters relating to technical criteria, in order to secure the European Eco-Label. They have also advised on other areas such as - WEEE Registration, ISO and EMAS accreditation - together with Safety and EMC testing.

    UL ECE have tested the Prototype in some areas and directed MicroPro to agencies where specialist testing can be carried out, in order to secure the required certification for:
    - reducing energy consumption
    - reducing hazardous materials
    - reducing noise
    - reducing electromagnetic emissions
    - identifying compliant parts and components.

    UL ECE have also undertaken to evaluate MicroPro’s manufacturing process and to advise on the reduction of energy consumption in manufacture, to advise on equipment guarantees and take-back arrangements and to suggest options for reuse of equipment, parts and components and the production of relevant user-information to be provided by MicroPro.

Safety and EMC, WEEE and RoHS Directives
Any computer or peripherals on the European market must comply with all current regulation relating to the sector. In that respect, the Green Computer must be compliant with the Low Voltage Directive (LV) and the Electromagnetic Compatibility (EMC) Directives - and, also, the more recent WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) and the RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) Directives. In addition to these product standards, MicroPro has also continued to process ISO 14001 and EMAS accreditation.

MicroPro is aiming to secure the European Eco-Label for the IAMECO model, as the key criteria to be achieved.

That is not to say that the Green Computer will not exceed these standards, or that it will not also meet (or exceed) other standards (official or otherwise).

For the Project, however, the Eco-Label represents a “bottom-line” accreditation that – the Project partners believe - should be in place before any European computer can be called “Green”.

The Project partners believe that, by using the European Community’s own Ecological criteria as the benchmark, they support the validity of the standard and the EC’s authority to set such standards. In particular, the Project partners appreciate and support the Commission’s attempt to summarise and specify key sustainability criteria that are both comprehensive and achievable within the Eco-Label criteria.

Based on the Eco-Label criteria - but also building on previous manufacturing and marketing experience - MicroPro has developed the new IAMECO range of computers and peripherals.

IAMECO aims to be fully compliant with the Eco-Label standards. Tests have begun on the Prototype to secure the European Flower. It is MicroPro’s intention that the PCs also comply with the Energy Using Products (EuP) Directive.

The IAMECO housing is manufactured of recycled aluminium, thereby exceeding the reuse and recycling requirements of the Eco-Label criteria.

This approach also maximises energy savings, as minimal additional energy is required for re-manufacture with recycled aluminium. No plastic is used in the computer housing. IAMECO parts and components have been carefully selected to meet RoHS requirements and to minimise electricity consumption, electromagnetic emissions and noise. The use of an upgradable chassis and modular internal port design maximises the options for upgrading and reuse of the PCs.

IAMECO monitors, keyboards and mice are mainly made of wood from renewable forests - with a choice of ash, beech or sapele.

One planned improvement is the substitution of all peripheral plastics in either bio-plastic (made from a waste by-product of paper production) or recycled plastics.

The first IAMECO Prototype was previewed at the European Commission’s Energy Action Day in Brussels on 30.05.06. It generated considerable enthusiasm and interest - especially among European Commission staff - who were impressed by the environmental specification, as well as the pleasing design and generous use of wood.

Next Steps
Testing of the IAMECO computer for the Eco-Label is underway and should be completed by late 2006. After this, the IAMECO range will be in line for a major market expansion, as the first certified European Green Computer. Already, MicroPro has begun to market its IAMECO range of products via its web site (Click Here). The company is also exploring the possibility of large-scale manufacture and franchising of the computer and peripherals, at a national and European level.

These beginnings represent exciting possibilities and prospects for the future. Project HEATSUN strongly believes that the process of developing the Green Computer by a small and local SME - supported an EC backed Partnership - is a good and replicable example of how the European Commission, government agencies and SME’s can, together, create a genuine opportunity for growth and competitiveness on the basis of environmental innovation.

This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of
José Ospina, Project Manager
Project HEATSUN (


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