Protecting the planet

IEC TC 111 prepares crucial Standards to help industry meet environmental targets

IEC Technical Committee (TC) 111 prepares horizontal International Standards which are key in helping to ensure electrical and electronic products are designed with the environment in mind. They are essential tools in the fight against e-waste, while aiding manufacturers to meet legislative requirements on toxic substances control.

Christophe Garnier
Christophe Garnier is Chair of IEC TC 111

It is easy to only pay lip service to the protection and preservation of the environment. In this day and age, it is often more about marketing one’s eco-friendly credentials than truly making a difference. But behind the scenes, a number of engineers, scientists and legislators are working hard to reduce environmental pollution in all sorts of areas. They include various members of IEC TC 111: Environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems.

Paving the way for recycling and urban mining

Since its creation in 2004, the TC has published a number of crucial International Standards relating to the environment. It is preparing for a future where recycling in a circular economy could well become the norm, while the recovery of rare earth metals ­— a process known as urban mining — may become widespread.

Before they can even begin to think of recycling the various materials they use in their goods, suppliers need to know and report the substances in their products so as to conform to the various pieces of legislations that exist across the globe. A key publication is IEC 62474 which establishes the requirements for reporting the substances and materials included in electronic and electrical products. It also facilitates the transfer and processing of this data by defining a common data format which applies to exchanges in the supply chain. The Standard comes with a validated open database, which includes a list of substances, substance groups and common material classes. “We have worked on an updated version of the Standard which is to be issued before the end of the year. The database now comprises lists of substances from industries which are not in the electrical sector”, the Chair of IEC TC 111, Christophe Garnier, explains.

Other major publications are the IEC 62321 family of Standards, which defines standardized methods for determining the levels of potentially toxic substances in electrical and electronic products, by using various methods of measurement. “This important family of Standards is prepared by Working Group (WG) 3. These publications cover ways of measuring several different substances. One of these is spectrometry, for instance. While WG 3 includes experts from different fields, we are looking for more test lab scientists to become involved”, Garnier says.

Eco-friendly design and joint work with ISO

The environmentally-conscious design of products has been a hot topic for many years. For instance, it is viewed as one of the ways of significantly reducing pollution by limiting the use of non-recyclable materials.

Yet another important Standard issued by IEC TC 111 is IEC 62430 which provides guidelines for minimizing the adverse environmental impact of devices throughout their lifecycle. The publication defines environmentally-conscious design for all electrical and electronic products, for instance which materials are used, the quantity of energy consumed to make them, as well as their rate of recyclability. “We have formed a Joint Working Group with ISO, JWG ECD 62959, to prepare a global Standard which will deal with the environmentally-conscious design of all products, not only electrical and electronic devices. This new Standard will be published in a couple of years and should draw from IEC 62430 and the work of ISO/TC 207. It will bear the logos of both the IEC and ISO”, Garnier reveals.

IEC TC 111 includes 25 participating member countries and 12 with observer status. “The most active countries are mainly based in the northern hemisphere. I would like to encourage all our members to take part in a proactive manner. Everyone can contribute – we must get more feedback from a higher number of developing nations as well, especially on environmental issues, as their input will be crucial as we move forward”.

The TC is holding its plenary meeting during the IEC General Meeting (GM) in Busan at the end of October. “We will present a study on the main initiatives launched around the world based on regenerative economic models. The outcome of this report will be discussed during the plenary and a recommendation for a future Standard relating to the circular economy will be made”.

Another group is studying the different environmental labels around the world. “We are looking at the feasibility of harmonizing the criteria used in various recycling labels, for instance”, Garnier explains. The work of IEC TC 111 might take place behind the scenes but it is more relevant than ever, as concerns about the environment reach new highs across the globe.