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Sustainable Design for the Environment Part 1

By BECKY MORONES posted Thu March 23, 2023 09:32 AM


IBM’s Product Design for the Environment has been established for over 30 years, since 1991. Design for the Environment is a design approach to reduce the overall human health and environmental impact of a product, process, or service where effects are considered across its life cycle. This program was created as an initiative-taking and strategic program which supports the circular economy. The circular economy is a program focusing on the entire environmental lifecycle of products. Here are IBM, we do this every time we develop a product; we start with what is used in our products, how it is being used, and what happens at the end of the life of our products. Our design for the ecological approach is a sustainable design approach because of all the strategies we focus on. Sustainable product design is an approach to creating products and services considering the environmental, social, and economic impacts from the initial phase through the end of life. Not only does IBM care about what materials are in our products and how they are disposed of at the end, but they do require our suppliers to have Environmental Management Systems (EMS). We track conflict (responsible minerals) used within our products. You can learn more about IBM’s social and economic impacts by reading the 2022 ESG Report. Focusing on the environmental aspects of sustainable design, IBM focuses on longevity, repairability, reusability, recyclability, disassembly, remanufacture, dematerialization and efficiency for all our products.

IBM’s Design for the environment has a total of six goals. Three of those goals I will cover in this blog post today and the remaining 3 will be covered in a follow on.  these first three goals all focus on the same sustainable design strategies: longevity, remanufacture, reusability, recyclability, disassembly and repairability. The three goals are as follows:

1.      Develop durable products, with consideration for their ability to be repaired, upgraded, refurbished, or remanufactured to extend product life.

2.      Develop products with consideration for their reuse, dismantle-ability, recyclability, and recoverability at the end of product life.

3.      Develop products that can be safely disposed of at the end of product life, including the ability to easily remove hazardous components and assemblies before scrapping and disposal.

What does this mean for IBM?  When you drill down further into these sustainable strategy aspects, you can see how much IBM has been doing.    IBM had incorporated reusability and remanufacture into our product design since 1989, when we began our take-back programs; this is a program in which we will take back the hardware after the client has used it and wants to discard it.  These activities have been enhanced over the years, and because of End-of-Life management has allowed IBM to extend the life of the longevity of the product) and reduced environmental impact.  Our Product Lifecycle Management focuses first on reusing the entire product, or the product is disassembled, and parts are reused.  If the parts cannot be reused, they are sent to material recycling; the material recyclers we use try to focus on converting the recycling process to energy.  Finally, if the part cannot be recycled, it goes to scrap / incineration, depending on which is better for the environment.

When IBM designs its products, the ease of disassembly always plays a role. The disassembly helps with servicing our systems but also during the end of life. IBM creates disassembly documents allowing IBMers and waste handlers easily disassemble IBM hardware either for repair or allowing the ease of breaking down the product so the parts can be reused and recycled. This helps in keeping our products and parts in the circular economy longer. 

IBM’s commitment to designing our products with repairability in mind.  Like how our products are designed for ease of disassembly, this design approach also helps ensure repairability. IBM has a program called IBM Expert Care, a modular tier approach covering both hardware and software support. This program allows IBM to continue allowing our products to be sustainable.  When a product is designed with repairability in mind, it allows these products to be repaired and extends its life of the product. This is where the longevity of our products comes into our design approach as well.  When people want sustainable products, they should focus on all the various sustainable design aspects, not just one aspect in general.