Lexmark: When designing green products, think disassembly

Lexmark: When designing green products, think disassembly

Summary: I was in New York City on Tuesday for a panel discussion focused on corporate sustainability. I've posted some of my broad thoughts about that conversation over at my SmartPlanet blog, but wanted to slip in an item here because I thought it was relevant for those of you who worry about green IT strategies.

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TOPICS: Hardware, Printers
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I was in New York City on Tuesday for a panel discussion focused on corporate sustainability. I've posted some of my broad thoughts about that conversation over at my SmartPlanet blog, but wanted to slip in an item here because I thought it was relevant for those of you who worry about green IT strategies.

I was struck by some comments made by John Gagel, manager of sustainable practices - EH&S for printer maker Lexmark. Gagel is in charts of understanding and managing what goes into the hardware company's products. So, for example, he is keenly aware of making sure his team tracks where it is getting anything that contains tin, tungsten and tantum (key components of many hardware products and gadgets). That's because these are some of the materials that have been emerging as part of the Congo's "conflict minerals" problem. Financial legislation passed in July 2010 made it mandatory for companies to disclose whether or not they have exposure.

Indeed, when I was chatting with him during lunch, Gagel mentioned that many of Lexmark's enterprise project proposals now include a request for information about what goes into the company's products, how much energy they consume and how they can be disposed of responsibly. Some of those information requests are up to 30 pages long! Which is really the focus of this blog.

The Lexmark sustainability team realized some time ago that one of the simplest ways to "design for sustainability" was to consider not only how to use more materials that were recycled or recyclable but also to look more carefully at how products can be disassembled, refurbished and reused at the end of their life. Well, at least at the end of their first life.

"It's thinking about things like the paint on plastic, using screws versus snaps," Gagel says.

So, Lexmark now designs just as much for the end of life as it does for the lifespan of a product itself.

Do your green IT procurement information requests contain enough questions about the end of life implications for your product? If not, you might want to explore more deeply how much attention your hardware vendors pay to this challenge. Or whether they consider it someone else's problem.

Topics: Hardware, Printers

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  • RE: Lexmark: When designing green products, think disassembly

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  • No Lexmark (or Dell) printers for me

    I have recently been informed that Lexmark and Dell printer cartridges are not being designed so that they are unable to be refilled. The cartridges have electronics in them that disable the cartridge after a set number of prints. That means that they can not be refilled. It also means that you will only get that number of prints. No more shaking the toner cartridge to get a few more copies. This is unacceptable to me since I like to buy refilled/recycled cartridges to save money and help the environment. No more Dell or Lexmark printers for me.
    gwthornt
  • To be green design for long life

    As an engineer I like the idea of green design Too often I see products which claim to be green and have many green features which they are not afraid to boast about. What many do not have is long life. A lot of energy and materials go into making the product but apparently overlooked are the minor details of design which will make them last. I have had a number of products where a tiny amount more strength in the right place could have trebled the products life. Spare parts are not available. Instead they had to be recycled at additional cost to the environment or sometimes just dumped. Of course a long lasting product is not what the manufacturer wants as replacement sales will fall. So how green is the product really?
    misceng
  • Life cycle analysis

    The industry that helps build these components by selling semiconductor manufacturing equipment has been looking at the life cycle of our products for several years. This starts with our suppliers and the materials they use, the consumables, and then decontamination as needed, finally with disassembly for recycling. Working with SEMI Standards helps us addess this issue worldwide.

    Many years ago (5 or 10?) BMW set up a model recycling plant for their cars and now designs them so that components do not contain mixed plastics that would prohibit recycling and marks everything over 10 grams. It doesn't take a lot of extra effort to change designs for new products and can have long term benefits.
    Common+Sense
  • Hear, hear!

    I've been repairing office equipment for a small, local business since 1977, and some printers are nearly impossible to take apart, with snaps designed to go one way, and only once. Most of the larger laser printers are still pretty reasonably designed, but some are evidence of pure insanity, like making a cheap, high-mortality part like a paper feed roller impossible to reach without stripping the machine down to its bones.
    kidtree