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Eliminating hazardous materials cut costs

The world’s biggest information technology company believes it sees the future already, a time soon when today’s fears about harmful chemicals in computers and printers may seem quite old-fashioned.

“In 10 to 15 years you will find components that are so benign you don’t even have to think about it anymore,” said Helen Holder, corporate material selection manager at California’s Hewlett-Packard Company.

Credit an industrial process known as alternatives analysis and increasingly, at center stage in large companies like HP. The Palo Alto electronics giant is renowned globally for advancing the process to find substitutes for hazardous chemicals traditionally used in computers, printers and other consumer electronics products.

Increasing the use of alternatives analysis among manufacturers is now a key goal of the Department of Toxic Substances Control’s  draft Safer Consumer Products Regulations. The California regulations are the world’s first by a government to compel wider use of alternatives analysis, in which companies sort through potential substitute materials for what’s safer, what works and what’s cost effective.

“It’s a good way of doing business,” said Marjorie MartzEmerson, HP’s environmental compliance materials program manager for the Americas. “It reduces cost when you eliminate hazardous materials. Companies have really grasped that idea.”

Hewlett-Packard is considered a tech industry leader in creating products that are safer for consumers, the environment and workers who recycle components at the end of a product’s life. In 2010, HP began selling notebook computers with arsenic-free display screens and mercury-free backlighting. At the end of 2010, HP notebook computers and other personal computing products contained no brominated flame retardants, nor any polyvinyl chloride. HP introduced the world’s first polyvinyl chloride-free printer in 2010. These innovations represented a continuance of HP’s earlier moves to eliminate lead from solder and cadmium from batteries, much of it prodded by new chemical restrictions in Europe.

HP uses a platform called GreenScreen™ developed by Clean Production Action to conduct its alternatives analysis work. Then, the company, which ships 48 million computers annually and more than 1 million printers weekly, uses its massive purchasing power to press global supply chains to provide identified safer materials.

“I understand that not every supplier wants to do this,” Holder said. “And if you have deep enough pockets not to sell to our business I respect your bottom line. But we have a $70 billion checkbook at our disposal. Someone is always willing to take it.”


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