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January 02, 2003
NEC Pioneers "Green" Computer
    by William Baue

NEC reverses the computer industry's foot-dragging on addressing environmental liabilities by introducing the PowerMate eco, the first eco-efficient computer.

From a technological perspective, the desktop computer represents a peak in scientific progress, compressing practically the entire history of human computational and compositional capabilities into a compact little box. Through an ecological lens, though, the personal computer (PC) represents a low point because it essentially piles toxic, unrecyclable substances on your desktop. The computer industry is dragging its feet on addressing computer toxicity and is employing an after-the-fact approach to recycling by reclaiming used computers. However, Japanese electronics manufacturer NEC has pioneered a more environment-friendly computer by replacing toxic substances with more benign alternatives and by designing the computer to be recyclable.

In August 2002, NEC introduced the PowerMate eco, the first computer to be made in a way that comprehensively addresses environmental issues. While computer manufacturers usually use unrecyclable plastics, NEC constructs the PowerMate eco chassis with its patented NuCycle plastic, a polycarbonate resin that is completely recyclable. In addition, NuCycle is mixed with a flame retardant silicone compound that does not release harmful gasses when heated, unlike many flame retardants used in other computers. And while most computer producers solder motherboards with lead, NEC has eliminated lead soldering from its motherboard. This protects both the individuals involved in reclamation and the ground water near the site of final disposal. NEC is also avoiding other toxic chemicals.

"In fact, we don't use any cadmium, hexavalent chromium, cyanic compounds, selenium, or organic phosphates either," said Larry Miller, vice president and general manager, Mobile Solutions Division of NEC Solutions America.. "Then we added a Transmeta Crusoe processor to minimize power usage, and an adjustable flat-screen display that uses no boron, unlike traditional CRTs [cathode-ray tubes]."

The toxicity of computer components, in addition to whether components are recyclable, is becoming a major consideration for investors who advocate greater social and environmental responsibility from the computer industry. NEC documents the environmental liabilities of computer manufacturing in an August 2002 white paper written by Amy D. Wohl of Wohl Associates entitled The Benefits of Green Computing.

"According to a Safety Council Study, only 11 percent of the 20 million computers discarded in 1998 were recycled. That same report notes that it expects discarded PCs will exceed newly purchased PCs this year," writes Ms. Wohl. "If PC manufacturers built and distributed green computers, eventually the disposal problem would resolve itself," she writes later.

Ms. Wohl defines "green" computers as follows.

"The computer must be designed to use only non-toxic materials, to be energy efficient, and to have minimal impact on the environment in every stage of its life cycle." Elaborating on the last point, she adds: "A recycling strategy should be considered part of the computer's design, e.g., the computer should be designed for easy disassembly and disposal or made so that it is safe to discard."

The NEC PowerMate eco is the first to fit this definition of a green computer, thereby distinguishing NEC as the purveyor of best practice in the computer industry.

In November 2002, PC Magazine recognized the environment-friendly design and superior functionality of the PowerMate eco with its Award for Technical Excellence in the Desktop PCs category. The PowerMate eco beat out the Apple iMac and the HP Media Center PC. The previous month, PC Magazine granted the PowerMate eco its Editor's Choice award.

"This award from PC Magazine confirms that NEC Solutions America is setting the stage for environmentally friendly innovation in the U.S.," said Mr. Miller. "Receiving the PC Magazine Award for Technical Excellence is significant because technical innovation and superiority are paramount to delivering breakthrough products and services; but more important, we appreciate the recognition as a company that is actually addressing the global problem of PC recycling."


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