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Green Product Lifecycle Management: A Nontoxic Approach to PCB Design

Light bulb and electronics surrounded by a green environment


During my freshman year at our local university, I took one of those general education classes that most people see as a waste of time. Since I needed three hours in biology, I enrolled in a class about ecology. Our professor—an older gentleman who didn’t seem to mind teaching night classes—assigned Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac as our only text.

If you have never read A Sand County Almanac, you should. Or…at the very least, take a quick look at Leopold’s work. Leopold introduced a concept called ecological economics that sets the foundation for our current views about sustainability. Although Leopold focused on the connecting points between land use, economics, and good environmental stewardship, those connecting points make their way into newer theories, discussions, and actions that focus on sustainability. With this in mind, let’s consider one of Leopold’s comments:

“quit thinking about decent land-use as solely an economic problem. Examine each question in terms of what is ethically and esthetically right as well as what is economically expedient. A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”

Industry Analysis: All In On Sustainability

For a moment, substitute the products that we produce—whether a PCB or some electronic device—for “land use.” Sustainability blankets more than just the product that a consumer holds in his or her hands. Instead, sustainability takes on a different meaning when we begin looking at all the processes and activities needed to produce the product. When we consider sustainability as a strategy that covers not only all aspects of the supply chain but also research, development, maintenance, and disposal, one’s perspective may change. In this context, sustainability coalesces around commitment.

However, that commitment extends beyond the operations of one group of employees or one company. All companies and all employees involved in product development and deployment must remain solidly committed to sustainability. As a result, all employees become a part of the commitment and stakeholders in each stage of the green product lifecycle strategy.

Green Product Lifecycle Management Considers Holistic Operations

Many people thinking about product life cycles automatically jump to the end. Indeed, we hear phrases such as “do you want to purchase an extended warranty?” or “what is the mean time before failure?” True lifecycle thinking starts at the beginning when decision-makers make lay out policies and procedures. 

For Green Product Lifecycle Management to work, those decisions must incorporate environmental, social, and economic impacts from design through disposal. Lifecycle thinking understands the value of the materials, production processes, labor, distribution, maintenance--and waste management--in terms of energy use, the environment, all types of global human factors, natural resources, and economic measures. 

Lifecycle management puts all this into play. Green operational and product lifecycle management emphasizes continuous improvement and project management according to standards that achieve environmental, social, and economic performance. Green product lifecycle assessments and key performance indicators measure processes and products according to carbon and water footprints, resource efficiency, environmental risks, recyclability, and sustainability. Each process should include objectives for reducing environmental load and pollution.

Determining environmental load and pollution may seem as a broad category that lacks definition. The opposite is true. Green Product Lifecycle Management merges quantitative assessments, simulations, and modeling with a specific view of environmental impact of materials, emissions, compounds, nutrients, and waste on the atmosphere, ozone, water, species, humans, ecosystems, and organisms.

Gears and electronics on a conveyor belt

Product lifecycle management takes a view over all aspects of production.


Every phase of product design becomes part of the analysis. In our world of PCB design, assessments consider the materials that make up the board, the etchants used to produce the board, the manufacturing processes for components placed on the board, and the hazardous waste generated when producing the PCB. 

Environmental load and pollution assessments take a micro-level view of power supplies that ranges from the amount of electricity consumed by the power supply to the impact of disposing batteries in a landfill. Additional assessments cover the mechanical design of the product and study the impact of the plastics used the casing. Benchmarks for the distribution cycle include the recyclability of packaging materials and the amount of energy used throughout the supply chain.

Green Product Lifecycle Management also focuses on two other key factors: regulatory standards and transparency. For example, the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) 62075 standard speaks to the environmentally conscious design of entertainment and information technologies while the International Standards Organization (ISO) 14040:2006 standard addresses environmental management and life cycle assessment. The quest for transparency goes beyond compliance and pushes corporations to both manage and release information about processes or materials that involve some type of environmental risk.

Climbing to the Mountaintop

Every strategy includes a vision, a mission, and objectives. Typical Green Product Lifecycle Management (GPLM) strategies use the same formula but with a different view of the corporate landscape. Rather than focus on profits, a GPLM mission statement balances satisfying customer needs with a system that values innovation, quality, and sustainability across all product life cycles. Instead of emphasizing growth and world-wide locations, a GPLM vision statement values knowledge and measurements as means for growing sustainability across all phases of product design, development, manufacturing, distribution, marketing, and disposal.

GPLM strategic objectives have the purpose of cascading the awareness of sustainability and ecological economics throughout the organization. Cascading occurs through knowledge and information sharing at all levels and throughout the product life cycle. All this occurs through a greater awareness of internal and external stakeholders and a concentrated encouragement to collaborate as a green network. Everyone has a key role. Then, the different strands of the network extend within and beyond one company.

Engaging the private and public sectors—as well as consumers--to participate in this collaborative effort occurs through a laser-like focus on green business targets. A mountaintop view of end-to-end sustainability considers the origin of materials and how those materials align with product specifications. This view also incorporates marketing and packaging in terms of the use of ecologically sound materials and the amount of energy consumption. Green business targets also consider consumer interaction with products and study the amount of energy needed for satisfactory use.

Green printed circuit board with components on it 

Working your component supplier and encourage smarter, more sustainable board creation.


Selecting the right green business targets require the drilling down through information and trends for the purpose of identifying drivers. The uniqueness of Green Product Lifecycle Management exists because of the understanding of how those drivers impact the environment. Drivers intertwined around ecological economics take a global view of environmental footprints. That is, an electronic device may have a different environmental impact depending on its use in North America, Asia, or Europe. This geo-difference in environmental impact occurs because of different methods used to generate electricity and divergent views about recycling.

Two Roads Diverged in a Yellow Wood

Manufacturers and production facilities can choose to ignore sustainability as a strategy and close their eyes to the percentages of resources used, global greenhouse gas emissions, or generated e-waste. Or…manufacturers may choose to employ a partial approach to product lifecycle management that includes some aspects of green evaluation for their products that only concentrates on a specific environmental impact. Taking the road to ecological economics and Green Product Lifecycle Management requires an all-encompassing approach to design and development, engineering, technologies, consumption, and customer requirements.

Any way you wish to improve the relative green-ness of your product can be worked on with Cadence's host of PCB design and analysis tools. While working in Allegro PCB Designer, you’ll be sure to have every tool you need to move your design to production in both an intelligent and efficient way. 

If you’re looking to learn more about how Cadence has the solution for you, talk to us and our team of experts.