Our Relationship with the Environment - Surface Mount Technology
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Our Relationship with the Environment

SMT Editorial Advisory Board member Laura J. Turbini, Ph.D., Research in Motion, explores the path of human impact on the environment, and the environmental legislation issues it has created for the electronics production industry.

Everyone talks about it — the human race is creating a negative impact on the environment. We consume large quantities of gasoline for our cars, SUVs, power boats, home and office heating and air conditioning systems, etc. and by doing this we are creating pollution and adding to global warming.

The increasing influence of human population on the environment can be seen in three major technological, historical events: the development of tools, the Agricultural Revolution, and especially the Industrial Revolution. Each of these had the ripple effect of increasing the population, because the society of each of these periods perceived that the new developments would lead to unlimited resources.

Population growth coupled with affluence continues to have a strong negative impact on the environment. Paul and Anne Ehrlich* defined this impact as the equation I = P × A × T, wherein I = environmental impact, P = population, A = affluence, and T = technology. Our present approach to this environmental impact has led to a series of regulations based on compliance.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, the focus was on eliminating chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and other chlorinated solvents that were destroying the stratospheric ozone layer. Today, the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive from the European Union (EU) has been the center of attention for electronics manufacturers that sell product in the EU. Lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium VI, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ether are 6 substances that have been restricted from most consumer electronic products sold in the EU since July 1, 2006, with only a few exemptions. Even non-electronic items shipped in the same box as the electronics must meet this directive, e.g. holsters for handheld products. Other RoHS-related legislation has come into effect in the People’s Republic of China, South Korea, and Turkey.

Registration, Evaluation, Authorization, and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) is another initiative to come out of the EU, going into effect in June 2007. The full REACH initiative is being phased in over the next decade. The concern is for the impact of certain chemicals on human health and on the environment. The first list of substances of very high concern (SVHC) contains 15 chemicals, including several phthalates. These are added to polyvinyl chloride to make it more flexible for cable sheathing, and therefore they represent one more series of chemicals to be tested by electronic equipment suppliers.

Canada has recently introduced a new Chemical Management Plan focused on chemical substances of concern in electric and electronic equipment. Environment Canada has assessed the risk of 23,000 chemicals and has identified 200 substances to possibly ban or highly restrict. One of these at-risk substances is rosin.

Is regulation and compliance really the way to save the environment? Perhaps a new approach is in order. In 1987, the United Nations Commission on Environment and Development issued a report titled Our Common Future that defined sustainable development as “development which meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This concept lead to the development of a scientific field, industrial ecology, which focuses on evaluating the cradle-to-grave impact of our industrial activity, seeking ways to create closed-loop systems, and minimizing the environmental impact. We need to use technology to help close the loop and to change the environmental impact equation of Ehrlich to: I = PA/T

We must be stewards of the environment. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, "I entrust myself to the earth; Earth entrusts herself to me."

* Biographies provided by Stanford University: Anne H. Ehrlich has been affiliated with Stanford's Department of Biological Sciences and Center for Conservation Biology, has served on the board of the Sierra Club and numerous other conservation organizations has coauthored a number of books with her husband (including Betrayal of Science and Reason), and is the recipient of many awards.

Paul R. Ehrlich has been a household name since the publication of his 1968 bestseller, The Population Bomb. He is Bing Professor of Population Studies and Professor of Biological Sciences at Stanford University. Ehrlich is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a recipient of the Crafoord Prize (an explicit substitute for the Nobel Prize in fields of science where the latter is not given), the Blue Planet Prize, and numerous other international honors. 

Laura J. Turbini, Ph.D., is an SMT Advisory Board Member, an adjunct faculty member at the Universities of Toronto and Waterloo, and Chemistry Lab Manager and Principal Scientist at Research in Motion. She also serves on the Board of Directors at the SMTA. Contact her at (519) 888-7465, ext. 77744; [email protected].

Read Dr. Turbini's recent columns:
Challenges of Lead-free Electronics 
The Integrated Circuit Turns 50 
Halogen: The Latest Green Initiative 
Sulfur Meets Silver


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