• A new wood-based touch-screen computer.

    Credit: Courtesy MicroPro

    A new wood-based touch-screen computer.

Architects can do their best to ensure high environmental performance in the buildings they design, but the tools they and their buildings' clients use are not always given the same level of scrutiny. I am referring specifically here to computers—those omnipresent fixtures in nearly all building types that require significant amounts of energy and have toxic components that are difficult to recycle. Although many leading computer manufacturers have attempted to improve the environmental track record of the computers they sell, one experiment shows how the materiality of the computer may be entirely rethought.

Researchers at the Germany-based Fraunhofer Institute and Ireland-based MicroPro company have collaborated to create a wood-based computer. Although this might at first sound like an awkward replacement for the sleek aluminum or plastic casings of today's machines, the "Iameco" computer features an elegant design with a touchscreen interface. Most importantly, the device boasts a low carbon footprint of 360kg of carbon-dioxide equivalent over its life span, which is about 70 percent lower than that of a typical desktop computer. In addition, the computer frame serves as a carbon sink (as it is made of wood), and 98 percent of the product is recyclable. These positive features led to Iameco's receipt of an EU Ecolabel from the European Union.

“This touch-screen PC has a very low energy consumption over the entire lifecycle of the unit – starting from production, through the use phase to its ultimate recycling,” says Fraunhofer scientist Alexander Schlösser.

Once we add the devices used in buildings to architectural life-cycle calculations, this type of innovation could help increase environmental performance comprehensively.