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
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
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."
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
"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