Is 'Design for the Environment' Strictly Academic?
Dr. Guna S. Selvaduray
There are many issues that are always considered academic. Then we turn around and find out that perhaps they were not so academic after all.
One issue, the environment, has been around for a long time. While it has vaguely troubled society, a large segment of academia has not yet caught on to it.
Additionally, most of industry appears to refuse to catch on. By this I mean conducting ourselves in a manner to preserve the environment in all of its richness and diversity so that we, and subsequent generations, can enjoy it.
In fact, if we can go one step further and undo some of the damage that previous generations have done, that would be even better.
From time to time, and for various reasons, there is political pressure to take certain steps to protect the environment. One such issue was the integrity of the ozone layer, and the subsequent measures that were enacted to protect the ozone layer.
Despite dire warnings of how these measures would result in U.S. industries becoming non-competitive, or would result in price increases, the protective measures were implemented, and we have seen neither price increases nor lack of competition on the part of domestic industries.
A less successful example is that of the nuclear industry, whose demise came about, in large part, due to its unwillingness to deal with the related environmental issues.
The current environmental issues facing the electronics industry are the removal of (a) halogenated flame retardants and (b) lead and lead compounds.
Interestingly enough, these issues are being faced because of legislation-again! (Will those pesky regulators never leave us alone!?) And this time, the initiative is coming from Europe and Japan. (U.S. initiatives for elimination of Pb, which began much earlier here than in Europe, did not make it through Congress.)
The logbook on environmental issues and problems that society and industry have grappled with thus far can run into several volumes, but what matters is what we have learned.
The most recent development with Pb-free solders tells us that we may choose to ignore an issue domestically, but when other economic regions make a decision to protect their environment, we have to go along if we value their business.
It also seems that the best way to convince industry to conduct its business in a manner that will also protect the environment is to hit it in the pocketbook.
There can actually be another way of going about things-addressing environmental issues ahead of time, before they hit us in the pocketbook, and thus also making sure that they are not addressed as an end-of-the-pipeline issue.
At the rate technology is progressing and evolving, more and more computers are going to be sent to landfill. Addressing issues of recycling and recyclability during the design phase can significantly reduce the volume later destined for landfill, an end-of-the-pipeline solution.
It is high time we seriously considered including the principles of "design for the environment" in our design rules, something that can actually put industry in the driver's seat, ahead of legislation.
A few universities in the country have now begun teaching concepts and principles of "green design," and some industries are adopting these principles, in part.
Imagine a world-perhaps five years from now-where the first question your customer asks is something like, "How recyclable are the materials you are using in your devices, and what methods are available for recycling them?"
Dr. Selvaduray is a professor and graduate coordinator in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering at San Jose State University and a Registered Professional Engineer. He is also a member of Chip Scale Review's Editorial Advisory Board. Prior to joining the university, he worked in industry for 10 years. [firstname.lastname@example.org]