Last changed: 2/01/13
The market for desktop and notebooks is growing steadily. The Federal Association for Information Technology, Telecommunications and New Media (BITKOM) projected a 4.4 percent growth in sales of desktop computers in 2010. “BITKOM estimates that sales of tablet PCs will reach 450,000 in Germany in 2010. Stationary PCs will have a significant market segment with so-called all-in-one devices where the monitor is integrated into the case“ [BITKOM 2010].
The manufacture and marketing of this massive number of computers generates a correspondingly major amount of environmental pollution. For example, it is estimated that the electricity used by IT components (when in operation) accounts for 3 percent of Germany’s total energy consumption [Hiebel et al. 2007]. Moreover, the raw materials and other substances and products used to manufacture computers, together with the emissions engendered by such elements, induces a host of ecotoxicological effects. As a result, the ecological footprint of information and communication technologies (ICT) is growing heavier owing to their ever increasing use [Greenpeace, 2007].
Another problematic aspect of IT use is the ever growing volume of waste engendered by it – the result of ever shorter innovation cycles and the consequent shortening of the useful life of electrical and electronic equipment – and the issue of how this waste is to be managed. Recycling of waste equipment in less developed countries tends to be subject to lower environmental standards and is often carried out under conditions that create both health and environmental hazards [Greenpeace, 2005]. This problem can be addressed through application of Design-for-EnvironmentThe Design-for-Environment perspective aims to optimize products by building low energy use and good recycling properties into them during the design engineering phase. and dematerialization paradigms, which place the engineering emphasis not on a physical product such as a specific computer, but rather on the function or task at hand. In terms of information and communication technology (ICT), these perspectives encourage engineers and designers to consider applying alternative systems and infrastructures that allow for realization of the target functions in the desired quality – but in a manner that greatly reduces the environmental impact of these functions (benefit equivalency).
In line with this approach, the use of thin clients in conjunction with terminal servers provides an alternative to the use of classic computers. The basic functional principle of thin clients is related to the mainframe computer environments of the 1950s and 1960s, where no data was stored in workstation computers, which were used solely to transfer user input to the server and to display text-based output at the workstation. All data was processed and stored centrally in the mainframe computer (see figure 1).
Figure 1: Centralized operating environment consisting of a
mainframe computer and satellite terminals.
Thin clients and terminal servers are an updated version of the mainframe environment. Thin clients are considerably smaller than a PC system and contain no moving parts such as hard drives or fans. As in a mainframe environment, the network is used not for the exchange of application data such as documents, graphics and databases, but rather solely to enable the interchange of user input and video/audio output between the thin client and terminal server. Computing and data processing are carried out centrally on the server (see figure 2). This environment provides users with the graphical user interface they are accustomed to using, along with a maintenance friendly central server environment, providing that the thin clients are continuously connected to the terminal server via a network connection. In the interest of rendering this environment failsafe and ensuring its availability, multiple terminal servers should be used (for further information on the computing center infrastructure needed for thin clients, see: [Umsicht, 2008-1] p. 9 et. seq. and p. 25 et. seq.).
Figure 2: Terminal servers run programs and transfer screen output
to thin clients and desktop computers.
Despite the fact that thin clients are functionally dependent on their terminal server, a thin client solution constitutes a cost effective alternative to classic desktop computers relative to the share of the procurement and operating costs accounted for by these devices [Knermann, 2008]. Thin clients also offer ecological advantages.
In light of these observations, before new computers are purchased, it should be determined whether thin clients could be used for the desired purpose, in lieu of classic PCs. It is also essential that the environmental impact of such purchases be taken into account as well. Power consumption during the operating phase plays a particularly important role in this regard. The observations below relate to the system unit – the actual thin client – that is used at the workplace. As a rule, in addition to the system unit per se, the scope of supply comprises solely a network cable and if necessary an external power supply. If keyboards and other peripheral devices are to be provisioned with the system unit, they should be considered separately. Material and energy efficiency criteria for the terminal server also need to be defined.
The environmental impact of information and communication technologies (ITC) is mainly attributable to the considerable amounts of materials and energy needed for raw material extraction, manufacturing and logistics. The ever shorter innovation cycles of the relevant product portfolios, and the consequent shortening of the useful life of the attendant devices are also environmentally relevant. It is, however, precisely due to these environmental factors that efforts should be made to lengthen and optimize the efficiency of the useful lives of IT products. Thin client solutions promote this aim as the devices mainly operate without regard for the performance requirements of operating systems and application software [UMSICHT, 2008].
In a thin client infrastructure, hard drive capacity, processors, RAM and the like only need to be upgraded for the terminal server. Since a terminal server can service numerous thin clients and thus uses its capacity more efficiently, it constitutes a more resource and energy efficient solution than operating and upgrading a large number of desktop computers. This also means that upgrading thin clients then becomes a process of secondary importance that needs only involve the replacement of elements such as local RAM, the memory card and local operating system, or the client’s power supply in the event of a malfunction. Moreover, inasmuch as thin clients contain no moving parts such as hard drives or fans, the system unit can be regarded as being more maintenance friendly than the counterpart classic system unit (see figure 3).
Figure 3: A thin client (left) is more compact and contains
fewer components than a PC (right).
Another advantage of thin clients is that they use less electricity than PCs, particularly when it comes to older models whose power supplies are less efficient than those in use today [UMSICHT, 2006]. Older desktop computers are highly suitable for reuse as terminal server clients, although doing so reduces power consumption during the use phase to a negligible degree only, in terms of the overhead costs that are incurred by the user. If waste equipment undergoes an efficient recycling process, thin clients can be a more environmentally friendly option than upgrading existing desktops or using them as terminal server clients.The system unit should integrate a readily identifiable and accessible ‘off‘ button, which when pressed switches the computer to Off Mode. If the system unit has an external power supply, it should comply with the European Commission’s Code of Conduct on Efficiency of External Power Supplies – Version 3Code of Conduct on Energy Efficiency of External Power Supplies - Version 3" of 28 November 2007; expires on 1 January 2009and should also meet the materials requirements for the device insofar as possible.
Noise emissions in workplaces that demand concentration to perform work, the clatter of computer keyboards and the noise emitted by system elements can easily be disturbing, particularly in cases where computer workstations are located in open plan offices. Most computer noise is attributable to the processor fan, the graphics card, the network elements, and the hard drive and CD/DVD drive.
Thin clients have virtually no effect on noise emissions as virtually all such devices dispense with active elements, i.e. mechanical components such as fans and hard drives.
If, in an exceptional case, a thin client does in fact integrate one or more mechanical components, the device should be subject to applicable noise emission requirements.
Computers contain numerous components and hundreds of different substances, including ferrous and non-ferrous metal, aluminium, precious metals, plastic and semiconductor materials, as well as elements composed of equipped circuit boards, LEDs, condensers, rechargeable batteries and wires. EU Directive 2002/95/EC, which bans the use of heavy metals, PBDE and PBB [RohSG, 2003], was transposed into German law by Germany’s electrical products act (ElektroG) [ElektroG, 2005], which stipulates the following: ”Electrical and electronic equipment is to be designed in such a way that the dismantling and recovery thereof, and in particular reuse and substance recovery for waste equipment and the components and materials therein, is simplified” [ElektroG-2005]. Electrical and electronic equipment is subject to the following thresholds concerning homogenous materials: 0.1% by wt. for lead, mercury, chrome VI, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated ciphenylether (PBDE); and 0.01% by wt. for cadmium [ElektroG-2005].
The various components used in computers must be readily dismantled in order to allow for environmentally safe disposal and to ensure that a maximum number of parts can be recycled or even reused. In view of the fact that metallized plastic elements generate pollution during both the manufacturing and recycling process, the use of such elements should be avoided as much as possible. Moreover, plastic metallization should never be performed via galvanic processes.
In order to ensure proper end-of-life disposal of computers, the relevant manufacturer or distributor (or a manufacturer subcontractor) should take the machine back and guarantee that it will be disposed of properly. It is essential that waste equipment be disposed of in accordance with the provisions of the German waste recycling act (Kreislaufwirtschaft- und Abfallgesetz, KrW-/AbfG). The law requires that ICT equipment is to be handled in such a way that a minimum of 75% of the mean weight of the device is recovered and that substance recovery and recycling is enabled for a minimum of 65% of the mean weight of each device’s components, materials and substances [ElektroG 2007].
The ergonomic properties of desktop computer and thin client keyboards should be evaluated in accordance with EN ISO 9241-4Ergonomic requirements for office work with visual display terminals (VDTs) -- Part 1: General introduction (ISO 9241-1:1997) (contains changes in AMD 1:2001): DIN EN ISO 9241-1; standard no. DIN EN ISO 9241-1and the parameters defined therein should be adhered to. EN ISO 9241-4 governs all ergonomic requirements related to the use of visual display units for office work, including similar activities in control rooms, medicine, science, telecommunication, and public buildings, as well as the relevant test procedures and usability criteria [EN ISO 9241-4, 1997].
Most computers are purchased new, the advantage being that you can select from the current product portfolio and can purchase equipment that integrates the latest and most environmentally sound technology. In some cases, companies opt for leasingComputer leasing allows for needs oriented equipment procurement. For example, if a specific user needs a new and relatively high performance machine, an older device can be given to another user with lesser needs. This in turn can prolong the useful life of existing computers. Another way to prolong the useful life of ICT equipment is through application of a usage cascade, where used computers are directly passed on to other internal departments, are sold to outside organizations, or are passed on to schools or other organizations..
Therefore, prior to purchasing new computers it is advisable to look into alternative procurement options with a view to prolonging the useful life of existing or other devices. This opens up the possibility of converting older desktops to thin clients through the use of plug-in cards or various software solutions. However, it should be borne in mind that (a) such solutions do not significantly reduce power consumption inasmuch as power supplies, processor fans and other active components remain on panel; and (b) in energy saving mode a suitably dimensioned desktop power supply consumes considerably more power than a thin client.
Oftentimes a desired service feature and/or performance upgrade can be implemented by upgrading an existing computer. Factoring this option into the procurement planning process allows for subsequent leveraging of the consequent potential. This approach also promotes the use of thin clients, as they operate without regard for the power requirements of the operating system and application software. In a thin client infrastructure, hard drive capacity, processors, RAM and the like only need to be upgraded for the terminal server.
In a thin client solution, the only client elements that ever need to be replaced are RAM, memory cards (along with the local operating system), and the client’s power supply. Also significant in this context is that the device manufacturer will supply new versions of the thin client firmware or operating system as the latter also integrates client software that establishes the connection to the terminal servers. If the existing terminal server software changes, it may be necessary to install a new client program in the thin client so as to allow for continued use of all terminal server functions.
In some cases, it is worth purchasing used equipment, which not only entails a smaller investment but also prolongs the useful life of the machines purchased. Numerous manufacturers sell used computers. Unfortunately, such approaches are currently applied mainly to desktop and notebook computers, and are rarely used for thin clients.
On request, some German brand-name equipment manufacturers supply used or reconditioned equipment, although thus far this has been mainly done for projects involving primary and secondary schools and other educational institutions.
Returning waste equipment to the OEM is governed by Germany’s Electronic and Electrical Equipment Act (ElektroG), which stipulates that owners of such equipment are required to return it to the manufacturer separately from unsorted household waste. Toward this end, public waste disposal providers are required to provide private households with apposite information and to collect waste equipment from the designated collection points. B2B equipment must also be disposed of properly. Waste equipment can be collected via the public waste disposal system, manufacturer or distributor [EkektroG, 2005]. If 20 or more devices are to be disposed of at the same time, the delivery place and time must be arranged in advance with the disposal provider.
B2B equipment is to be picked up by the manufacturer on-site and free of charge rather than being disposed of at collection points used by public disposal services. In other words, makers of B2B equipment are not required by law to pick up waste equipment at public collection points [EAR 2007]. Legal responsibility for disposal of B2B equipment also depends on the market launch date of the equipment in question. For devices that were initially commercialized prior to 24 March 2006, the device owner is legally responsible for disposal. For equipment initially commercialized after this date, the manufacturer is required by law to make reasonable efforts to take back the equipment [VZHH-2006; BMU-2008].
The Computer section of the Blue Angel label standard RAL-UZ 78a applies to desktop computers, integrated desktop computers, workstations and thin clients.
The criteria for award of the Blue Angel label are elaborated by the Federal Environment Agency in cooperation with manufacturers, testing organizations, other experts and consumer representatives. An independent eco-label jury then reviews and adopts the criteria. The Blue Angel label is awarded under contract to the Federal Environment Agency by the organization RAL gGmbH.
Most of today’s devices have the EnergyStar label. The updated EnergyStar criteria for computers can be accessed here: (http://www.eu-energystar.org/de/database/?cmd=selectform;table=ce_thinclient). These new requirements have been in effect since July 2009.
Maximum 2 watts in Off Mode, 2 watts in Sleep Mode; in the idle state (with the operating system and application software loaded, the system starts in response to the relevant signal): two different values for respective performance levels.
The EnergyStar standard was developed for energy saving office equipment by the US Environmental Protection Agency. EnergyStar does not require any external verification. Any manufacturer that believes the required limit values are complied with may use the symbol. All that is required is a notification to the EPA. The EPA makes random checks on products with the EnergyStar label.
Source: UMSICHT February 2009; Revision: Federal Environment Agency May 2011