Design for eXcellence

Unit 5: Design for environment

Section 1: Environmental issues for EDR

Section Contents


In this unit of our Design for eXcellence module, we are tackling a range of diverse issues under the general theme of Design for Environment. Apart from this introductory section, there are three sections on different aspects of DfE as they apply to electronics, supplemented by a short glossary and a list of relevant web pages. The reason for this last item is that DfE is a fast moving area, with much information on the web, and we want to encourage you to explore some of this, rather than answer self assessment questions on our statements.


Before reading further, reflect on the differences you might expect between Design for Environment and other ‘Design fors’ that have been topics so far.

From the engineering standpoint, the main differences are that DfE issues are less hard and fast than in other areas, and there is less unequivocal evidence available. In fact, environmental decisions often seem to go against engineering common sense. There is also great difficulty in reaching acceptable compromises that at least partially satisfy all interested parties.

The reason for this is that with DfE we have many more stakeholders – rather than just the designer, fabricator, assembler, test engineer and perhaps customer, everyone has an involvement with the environment, and more or less of an interest in it. As a result, environmental issues have substantial political and economic dimensions.

A consequence of this is that many of our considerations are driven by legislation or by the threat of legislation, much of which has been initiated by pressure groups but then moved forward by market forces as customers are persuaded by environmental arguments.

Environmental considerations excite strong passions, and you should expect that much of the evidence you come across will be biased, whichever side of the argument is being promoted. There will also be some observer bias – what you read into an article will depend on your attitude to environmental issues.


Where do you stand on environmental issues? If you don’t know, then try the self-assessment test on the Keele website. This forms Appendix One to the “Real WORLD Resources Guide” by Sandy Irvine, published by the Campaign for Political Ecology, and is entitled “How Green Are You?”. The aim of the quiz is “to encourage you to think about your own values, commitment and knowledge regarding environmental issues”.
Hopefully, this exercise should provide you with some feedback on:

Start at this link:

You may also be interested in this link to The Miniature Earthlink, a website presentation on global population, wealth distribution and other issues. The text used for this beautifully crafted but disturbing political statement originated from The Global Village, written by Donella Meadows. At this site we see the global village as a sample of 100 people chosen to be representative of the world’s population – 12 Europeans, 50 women and so on.

Perversely, given that environment is such a holistic concept, in practice you will find that many of the postings on specific topics ignore wider issues. An example is the case of lead-free solder, where removing the lead might lead to a wider set of problems with substitute materials, but this aspect is often ignored. However, the environmentalist’s armoury contains one technique, Life Cycle Analysis (or Life Cycle Assessment), that tries to assess the environmental impact of products as a whole. Though difficult to do, the concept is important, and our last section deals with this topic.

Having already said that environmental issues are less hard and fast, you will not be surprised to find that environmental issues are managed by a different process. Whilst it may look to have come out of the same stable as ISO 9000, the Environmental Management Standard (EMS) ISO 14001, started off with a major difference1. This was its emphasis on continual improvement – on assessing one’s performance, devising and implementing strategies to improve performance, and then reviewing the outcome, before repeating the process. How this is carried out is explained in the introduction to ISO 14001 at this link.

1 There is however, some convergence: in its latest incarnation, ISO 9000:2000 also stresses the need for continual improvement.

As you would expect, both quality and environmental management systems have a number of common features, including an emphasis on auditing performance, on defining and monitoring procedures, and on training personnel. Supplemented by equivalent standards for health and safety, they form the basis for demonstrating company conformance to acceptable standards in these three key areas.

And in all three, having right attitudes is more important that just following the letter of whatever internal manual is setting performance standards. Particularly with environment, people who are involved in product design need to be committed to making environmentally-friendly products.

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Sustainable development

The overarching theme behind the current emphasis on environmental legislation is that of ‘sustainable development’.

WWW Research

Before reading further, try a web search under "sustainable development" + aims. If your search engine allows (as with AltaVista and Google, for example), it will probably be beneficial to confine your search to UK sites. From skim reading some of the material you find, can you draw any conclusions as to what the phrase “sustainable development” might mean.

Of Google’s three billion plus web pages, over one million respond to this search, and there is a wide variety of material attesting to the political importance of the topic. You will find many ‘quality of life’ statements of policy from all levels of government and much high-flown language, although not perhaps much evidence of real action. You will also be reminded of the World Summit on Sustainable Development which took place in Johannesburg in September 2002, marking the 10-year anniversary of the first ‘Earth Summit’ held by the United Nations in Rio de Janeiro.

The concept of “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” is however rather older:

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development defined sustainable development as meeting “the [human] needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept implies that there are limits on environmental resources and the ability of the biosphere to absorb human activities. These limits are seen to have roots in technological inadequacies and inequitable social organization. Thus, sustainable development must entail a process of change in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development, and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs.

Washington State University Sustainable Development Sourcebook

This cuts across all elements of life and will impact all of us, both in our professional career and our personal/private lives. The principles of sustainability can be summarised as follows:

As you study this unit, don’t lose sight of these wider principles, especially the last, although inevitably much of our consideration will focus on the impacts that electronics makes on the environment.

There are other terms used in this general area which are equally all-embracing. Your exploration of this will probably have uncovered the terms “product stewardship”, a ‘cradle-to-grave’ view of our responsibility for what we design, and “environmental integrity”, which is all about living within ecological limits, protecting natural resources, and having responsible patterns of consumption, reusing and recycling products as far as possible. There will be more about this topic in the final section of the unit.

The idea of sustainability brings up the whole question of how we measure our impact on the natural environment. This is an issue that pervades the entire subject of Design for Environment, and is the subject of continuing debate. It is easy to focus on the finer detail without identifying suitable measures of the wider problems. Typically, we measure ‘carrying capacitor indicators’, such as water quality, air quality and species diversity.

The idea of sustainable development has been promoted for many years, but organisations are starting to take this aspect very seriously, as it impacts on the way they are perceived by their investors. For example, Dow Jones produce a ‘Sustainability World Indexes Guide’ (


What are the issues of current concern to manufacturers of electronic assemblies? If you don’t already know from your contacts within the industry, you could try a web search.

Hint: As an alternative to the ever-popular Google, you might like to try the search engine at This usually gets fewer hits, but the advanced search option gives much more flexibility, for example to use Boolean strings such as “electronic AND (PWB OR PCB) AND (environmental AND concerns)” and to specify a range of dates as an alternative to the ‘updated during past year’ filter.

Compare your answer with this one.

The major concerns that you will have identified are being tackled in the next three parts, but this will be primarily from a technical viewpoint. Before looking at engineering solutions, we need to consider the background against which much of the activity is being carried out.

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The legislative background

The development of environmental law has been quite fragmented. If you review some of the legal framework, you will find that legislation in this area goes back to Victorian times. One colleague produced this list:

Major environmental drives, by groups such as Greenpeace, have been making headlines for over 30 years, and the result has been a number of changes in key areas that have improved the environment. Water quality and the use of lead have been specific targets where legislation has been a driver. As early as 1991 the US Senate proposed a Lead Exposure Reduction Act (‘the Reid Bill’), which would have put a 0.1% limit on the lead content of products. Although both this and a 1993 follow-up bill were mothballed, a threat remained, and some research work was initiated.

As we will see when we review European legislation, the next moves were made in the European Union during the late 90s. These included measures to reduce the impact of hazardous materials, with a proposed ban on lead in electronics. Many changes later, this is now scheduled for implementation in 2006.

General environmental legislation is a growth area, but one that is needed as pressure on the environment increases and the global recognition of problems grows. You will probably have heard of the Montreal Conference in 1987 that banned ozone-depleting materials that had been identified as leading to holes in the ozone layer, one of the causes of climate change.

The ban of CFCs was unusual, in that the timescale from identifying the problem to implementing the solution was extremely fast. Most environmental legislation has been grinding slowly through political systems for many years. However, positive progress has been made, and there are signs of changes being brought about in attitudes at an individual level.

Most of the legislation proposed follows what is referred to as the ‘Five Ps’ principles, of which the best known is ‘Polluter Pays’ – if you have hired a skip recently, you may have noticed that the charges are very much higher than ten years ago, because of the introduction of a landfill tax.

‘Five Ps’ principles behind the global system of environmental law:

European legislation

The electronics industry is not the only industry to be affected by environmental legislation, but has been the focus of particular attention within the European Union, not because of the scale of the problem, but because of the growth of the problem, and the fact that no remedial action had been put in place.

The European Union estimates that electronics contributes 4% of the municipal waste stream, and this is growing at 3–5% per annum, three times the growth of other wastes. Over 90% of this is land-filled. 400M cell phones are produced a year and perhaps 500M PCs will be obsolete by 2007. As a result, the EC has assumed the lead in environmental opinion and legislation.

Alan Rae, The costs of going green: PC Fab March 2003

In Europe the key items of legislation that affect the EDR professional are the following EC Directives:

The history of the WEEE and RoHS Directives is long and involved, and the two were originally combined. The Directives were adopted in June 2000, with a common position text published in December 2001 and a second reading in the European Parliament during April 2002. The original proposals were substantially modified during discussion, and significant amendments introduced during the Parliamentary approval process. For example:

Having completed the ‘conciliation process’, the directive was published2 on 13 February 2003. The onus is now on the Governments of individual states to implement the Directive by passing appropriate legislation in their own countries by 13 August 2004. In the UK, the process is starting with a DTI consultation document.

The introduction of WEEE and RoHS is phased, with the Directives commencing in August 2004, producer responsibility starting in August 2005, and targets for recovery and recycling to be met by the end of 2006. The ban on substances, specifically lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and two types of brominated flame retardants, will apply from 1 July 2006. However, products designed before the Directive will still be able to use materials that were in the original parts.

2 Final texts for the WEEE and ROHS Directives in publication format for the Official Journal of the European Union (dated 27 January 2003) may be downloaded at


The objectives of WEEE are:

WEEE’s scope covers all equipment that depends on electrical currents or electromagnetic fields. The ten ‘indicative categories’ identified include:


small household appliances
consumer equipment
electr(on)ic tools
medical equipment systems
automatic dispensers

IT and telecoms equipment
lighting equipment
electronic toys, leisure and sports equipment
monitoring and control systems
large household appliances

The WEEE directive requires that:

WEEE treatment facilities must hold a permit, and abide by strict quality standards. All fluids have to be removed from WEEE, and treaters have to remove from general waste items such as:

Obstacles to the implementation of WEEE are many, but, apart from the hazardous nature of some WEEE, the obstacles are mainly financial. For example, WEEE has to be collected separately from other waste, and even then contains mixed materials. There are problems in identifying the producer of ‘orphan’ WEEE. Most significant of all is the lack of suitable markets for secondary materials: we need to change the market dynamics, so that it is no longer cheaper to buy new.


RoHS applies to all products in the WEEE directive, excluding medical equipment and monitoring and control equipment. Its objective is to reduce the environmental impact of WEEE by requiring substitution of certain hazardous substances. Listed are lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and certain flame retardants. Those retardants banned are PBB (polybrominated biphenyls) and PBDE (polybrominated diphenyl ethers), both of which are used in thermoplastics.

Fortunately for the electronics industry, an exception has been made for TBBPA (tetrabromobisphenol A), a common flame-retardant additive used in PCB fabrication. However, whilst generating ‘sighs of relief’, this exception may not be permanent, as the directive states that further decisions will be made after proper scientific assessments, so other flame retardants may be embraced by RoHS.


The End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive seeks to reduce the amount of waste from ELVs by promoting re-use, recycling and recovery and to improve the environmental performance of those involved in the scrapping of ELVs. The directive will introduce controls on the scrapping of ELVs, by restricting treatment to authorised treatment facilities. The directive also sets the target that, by 2006, 80% of ELVs will be re-used or recycled, and 85% re-used or recovered. These figures increase to 85% and 95% respectively by 2015.

There are some concerns about the ELV directive, where the UK Department of Trade and Industry is in the second round of the consultation process, prior to full implementation during Summer 2003. “Britain may be heading for an environmental nightmare as long as funding for the EU’s new Directive on car recycling remains unclear, raising the possibility of thousands of abandoned vehicles littering the streets.” (Planet Ark, 18 June 2002)


The former EEE directive, which is now integrated within EuE requires manufacturers:

If you look at the draft Directive, you will see that the assessment involves not only all stages of product life, but almost every aspect of the design. Design for minimal consumption of energy and consumables, zero use of hazardous substances, and ease of reuse and recycling will be important.


In 1996, the European Union also introduced a Directive on Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control, implemented in the UK under regulations such as the Pollution Prevention and Control (England and Wales) Regulations 2000. These lay down measures designed to prevent (or where that is not practicable, to reduce) emissions to air, land and water from industrial activities.

Industrial installations covered by the regulations have to apply for an IPPC permit before they are allowed to operate. This permit system applies to building a new installation or modifying an existing one, wherever there is likely to be a significant negative effect on human beings or the environment. IPPC will be phased in, sector by sector, to cover all such existing installations by October 2007.

IPPC is largely based on an earlier UK model, although it includes some additional sectors and also regulates both noise and energy use. A significant change, however, which will impact on all industries, is that the permit will be based on the concept of Best Available Technique (BAT). This is a significant change from the earlier BATNEEC, where the final words stood for “Not Entailing Excessive Cost”, in other words, “Can we afford it?”. Now the question changes to “How can we afford to do what we must do?” In many cases, BAT will mean quite radical improvements, and sometimes extreme cost, which is why the transition period allowed is relatively long..

In the electronics area, IPPC will have its main impact on semiconductor fabs and, to a lesser extent, manufacturers of printed circuit boards. This relates to the high consumption of water and electricity by the former, and the water and effluent issues for board fabricators that we will be looking at under DfE and Board Materials and Processes.

Climate change

You can hardly fail to be aware of the concern about changes taking place in the world’s climate and the consequent emphasis on reducing the emission of materials with Global Warming Potential, especially carbon dioxide. As a result of this, a world-wide agreement to reduce CO2 emissions was made at Kyoto. The UK’s Climate Change programme that resulted has placed a levy on industry energy usage and the revenue raised will go in part to help industry reduce its use of energy.

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The industry response

In summary, there is a growing concern about man’s impact on the environment, and increasing legislation and regulation to help reduce this impact. And regulation will not come cheap – it has been reported that the USA spent $150bn per annum on environmental compliance of waste treatment.

Some of this legislation will affect the electronics industry, including PCB fabrication and assembly. There will be many issues in accommodating the effects of new legislation, such as going lead-free, many questions currently unanswered, and much debate within the industry.

As an example of how a move aimed at another part of the design chain (disposal) can affect manufacturability, consider lead-free solders. The main consequences of moving to mostly lead-free solders are higher processing temperatures, different wetting characteristics and different joint appearance. A literature search turns up many islands of good information separated by a sea of unknowns. Test methods and systems used are not always compatible. The processing temperature is increased ... and the process window is reduced ...

The cost of environmental compliance may be high in hidden ways – one estimate found that, if all soldering was switched to lead-free, the increased power consumption from 27,500 reflow ovens installed world-wide would be equivalent to 1.2B kW/h, the output of 60 small power plants.

Alan Rae, The costs of going green: PC Fab March 2003

Environmental legislation can be a threat or opportunity, depending on your approach. Certainly, there is more legislation coming, and there will be continuing changes to establish electronics manufacturing processes and materials. However, simply ignoring the legislation is not an option!. There may even be benefits, provided that the legislation is acted upon in a timely fashion and using a proactive approach.

There are many signs that the electronics industry is taking environmental issues seriously, quite apart from reacting to WEEE Directive. Examples of environmental projects being run within the UK PCB fabrication industry are:

We shall be learning more about these in a later section. However, there is a long way to go in raising perception of environmental issues. When we searched Google for "reuse and recycling" +"electronic products" this generated 861 hits from the web, but only 19 from the UK.

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Some optional reading

To encourage you, there are some interesting case studies in Green is the colour of money: Commercial success stories from ecodesign. Issued by GreenPack, a Nordic industrial project aimed at “enhancing the environmental performance of electronics manufacturers and suppliers, and their products”, this report describes the ways in which a number of products, most of which can be classified as electrical or electronic, have created economic as well as environmental benefit. But some ‘out of the box’ thinking may be required, for example, changing the marketing strategy so as to provide a service rather than equipment, making the recycling task more controllable.

The first of the two books suggested for this course takes a similar approach to the topic. Lee Goldberg’s Green electronics/green bottom line aims to inspire and convince, and gives a broad brush approach without detail. Like the GreenPack report, you can read it in one sitting without much difficulty.

This is not true of the totally different book edited by John Lau and his colleagues, with the staggering title Electronics Manufacturing with lead-free, halogen-free and conductive-adhesive materials. Although starting with a low-level introduction to “environmentally benign electronics manufacturing” with some interesting information on trends, this is a compendium of detailed information. A book of scholarship (lots of references!) and a mine of information on some of the tricky issues of implementation. Of course, you have to bear in mind that many of these topics are so new that you are getting the latest ‘hot off the press’ data without the benefit of an informed overview. Good preparation though for those intending to progress to our module on Technology awareness.

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