Standard aims to help the environment

Consciously keeping products on track

By Morand Fachot

"Eco-friendly" and "climate neutral" are strong marketing arguments today. Electrical and electronic products are manufactured using many substances; some, for instance lead, mercury and cadmium, are regulated and must be reported. Aware of the environmental impact of many industries in the global marketplace, as components and finished products flow across national borders, the IEC set up TC (Technical Committee) 111: Environmental standardization for electrical and electronic products and systems, in 2004. TC 111 recently released a landmark standard designed to help the industry track and declare specific information about the material composition of its products.

Recycling lead in a lead-acid battery recovery facility Recycling lead in a lead-acid battery recovery facility

Need to mitigate environmental impact

Every electrotechnical product has an environmental impact over its entire life cycle, from raw material acquisition, to the manufacture, distribution, use, maintenance, re-use and end of life of its components, and all of this across borders. With this in mind, TC 111 published IEC 62430,Environmentally conscious design for electrical and electronic products, in 2009. This standard defines the fundamentals and design processes for ECD (environmentally conscious design), as a means of reducing the adverse environmental impact of a product throughout its entire life cycle.

What to report, when, where and how

TC 111 recently published IEC 62474Material Declaration for Products of and for the Electrotechnical Industry. An International Standard aimed at harmonizing requirements across the supply chain and at improving economic efficiencies, it defines requirements for the exchange of material composition data and provides those for material declarations. IEC 62474 benefits the electrotechnical industry by establishing the requirements for reporting substances and materials, standardizing protocols, and facilitating the transfer and processing of data.

Thanks to this new standard, organizations that conform to it will no longer need to request a separate list of reportable substances and a different format from every customer. This allows the transfer of material declarations throughout the electrotechnical product supply chain in an efficient and cost-effective manner.

IEC 62474 allows for flexibility in the amount of information exchanged up to "full declarations". Anything beyond the base requirements will be negotiated between the organizations that are exchanging the data.

Associated database facilitates information exchange

The IEC 62474 "database" accompanies the IEC 62474 standard. This database, which is maintained by a validation team, consists of a list of substances, substance groups and common material classes to declare, with reportable applications and reporting thresholds. The database also includes information for software developers who are working on IT tools for material declaration that conforms to the standard.

IEC 62474 specifies the criteria to add, change or delete a given substance, substance group or material class from the database. There are three basic criteria for inclusion in the IEC 62474 database: "currently regulated", "for information only" and "for assessment". This is a similar reporting structure to the automotive industry standard GADSL (Global Automotive Declarable Substance List) but is relevant to the electrotechnical product sector. 
Substances included that are based on "for information only" are optional for reporting and are intended to support industry-wide ECD initiatives. In order for any substance to be considered, it must be found in electrotechnical products. The "for assessment" category is to provide producers with advance warning for substances for which no effective date for regulation has been specified.

Standardizing reporting process

IEC 62474 establishes minimum requirements for a material declaration and additional requirements for the declaration of optional information. The base requirements mandate the reporting of any substances and substance groups (such as lead and lead alloys) included in the final product that is provided to customers. Additional requirements allow reporting of substances and substance groups in materials and product parts. The reporting of additional substances and substance groups not contained in the standardized list of declarable substances as per the IEC 62474 database is also allowed, as is trade secret protection related to the additional requirements subclause.

Electronic data exchange

This standard presents significant advantages:

  • electronic data can be exchanged using common XML format. A developers’ table and schema are provided to help in-house and commercial software developers to have a standardized method of data exchange
  • the need to declare each instance of a declarable substance that exceeds its given threshold. Every homogeneous material that contains a declarable substance above the given threshold needs to be declared. This information is critical if the data is to be used to determine one’s compliance status
  • the presence of a new separate data exchange field for any reportable application. In previous standards, the reportable application is combined with a substance name. This contributes to issues concerning data quality by combining two different pieces of information into one data field.

IEC 62474 includes informative annexes to illustrate how to provide material declarations that conform to IEC 62474 base and additional requirements as well as illustrating the types of information contained in the developers’ table and the types of information needed for National Committees to submit change requests to the IEC 62474 database.

Positive impact

By providing an International Standard for the exchange of material composition data and requirements for material declarations, the newly-released 62474 will help manufacturers track and declare detailed and harmonized information about the material composition of their products and the possible presence of restricted substances they contain. It should also help ensure that these products conform to legal requirements, thereby supporting trade and reducing the possible negative environmental impact of many electrotechnical components and products.

Recycling lead in a lead-acid battery recovery facility Recycling lead in a lead-acid battery recovery facility
Old IT equipment may contain regulated substances Old IT equipment may contain regulated substances
Compact fluorescent light bulbs may contain small quantities of mercury Compact fluorescent light bulbs may contain small quantities of mercury