Philips forges ahead with eco-design

Dutch electronics giant Philips is steadily increasing the number of its "green flagship" products that are designed to have significantly better environmental performance than their predecessors or those of competitors. The company plans to phase out the use of the brominated flame retardant TBBA in printed wiring boards by 2006 and looks set to cut packaging by 10% over four years.

Philips is one of the world's largest electronics companies and Europe's largest. It is a global leader in televisions, lighting, electric shavers, medical diagnostic imaging and patient monitoring.

Eco-design was integrated into Philips' product development process as part of its "EcoVision" environmental programme, which ran from 1998 to 2001.

According to head of environment and energy Henk de Bruin, all of the company's divisions must consider environmental matters as part of their product development procedures. But potential environmental improvements are not implemented in situations where other factors such as cost or performance are compromised.

EcoVision also required at least one product with a demonstrably superior environmental performance, or "green flagships", to be developed each year in each of its business divisions - lighting, consumer electronics, semiconductors, medical systems, and domestic appliances and personal care. This target has also been included in the latest EcoVision programme, running from 2002-2005.

Eco-design at Philips focuses on five areas - weight, hazardous substances, energy consumption, packaging and recycling. Products are eligible as green flagships if they have been investigated in three or more areas and found to offer better environmental performance in at least two, compared with their predecessors or closest competitors. The status of green flagships is reviewed annually.

By the end of 2003 Philips had 106 green flagship products on the market, up from 32 in 1998 (ENDS Report 294, p 29 ). More than half were lighting products (see figure).

Judging by the examples in Philips' sustainability reports for 2002 and 2003, high performance in terms of weight, energy efficiency and packaging appear to be the easiest to achieve.

  • Resource efficiency: For example, its flat-screen liquid crystal display televisions have an "active control" feature which detects how much light is in the room and controls light output accordingly. Some models have at least 40% lower energy consumption per year in both use and standby modes than their major competitors.

    Philips' latest 30-inch LCD television also weighs much less than similar products because it has internal loudspeakers, avoiding the need for plastics housings and duplication of components such as wiring boards and power supplies.

  • Hazardous substances: In line with the requirements of the EU Directive on the restriction of hazardous substances in electronics, the company has phased out its use of lead, mercury, hexavalent chromium, cadmium and two classes of brominated flame retardants - polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs).

    However, it also plans to phase out tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBA) from printed wiring boards by January 2006. TBBA is commonly used in such applications.

  • Recycling: To assess recycling, Philips has devised a methodology with Dutch appliance recycler Mirec - a former Philips subsidiary - to measure the "recyclability" of a product, based on the amount of secondary materials that can be recovered from a product at Mirec's recycling plant. By substituting plastic components with metal parts, one of its DVD players, for example, is "20% more recyclable" than its closest commercial competitor.

  • Packaging: Wherever possible, product packaging must be reusable or recyclable. The company is well on the way to reaching its target to reduce the amount of packaging used by 10% in comparable terms by 2005 compared with 2001 levels. It achieved a 9% reduction by the end of 2003.

    A major contribution to the improvement was made by the lighting division, which cut its packaging by 21% between 2002 and 2003. This was due to a reduction in exports, which require more packaging, and lower sales for certain products.

    In contrast, an increase of 5% was recorded by the semiconductors division due to the sharp growth of colour screens in the mobile display systems business.

    According to Maarten ten Houten, senior environmental consultant in Philips' consumer electronics division, the company has been following the development of biopolymers such as Cargill Dow's polylactic acid (ENDS Report 338, pp 33-34 ). However, it has yet to make any decisions about using such materials.

    Mr de Bruin said Philips is still trying to maximise its use of cardboard at the expense of plastics such as expanded polystyrene, on the grounds that cardboard is easier to collect for recycling and is a renewable resource. But in certain applications, such as cushions for larger products, or in certain conditions, such as humid countries, plastic has a better technical performance.

  • Greening the supply chain: A supplier declaration on sustainability that outlines minimum expectations of behaviour on environmental, health, safety and labour issues was rolled out to key suppliers last year.

    Environmental requirements include certification to ISO14001 or a similar environmental management standard and compliance with the requirements of the relevant business division, such as hazardous substance bans. Commitment to the declaration is considered "an important factor" in Philips' decision to enter into or remain in a business relationship.