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Quality and environmental awareness with the TCO norm

By Simon Blohm
Translation by Siobhán Hayes
27.05.2008, 08:51

The TCO testing certificate assures the ergonomics, energy consumption, emissions and ecology of products used in office environments. Based on the findings of the Swedish workers’ trade union, the Tjänstemännens Centralorganisation (TCO), and the experience of its members (1.3 million), relevant norms are being introduced which will eventually be tested in a laboratory.

The TCO was founded in the 80s. Its staff consists of members from a wide range of professions such as teachers, salespersons, secretaries and also doctors, who are organized into 19 groups today, united as the TCO. At the beginning of the 90s, the TCO norm were also adopted by German sites and were soon well received from the industrial side. The TCO testing certificate has established itself in particular in the area of computer monitors, but other products such as office furniture and mobile telephones are also tested and certified.

Even without legal provisions, it is now almost impossible to sell monitor in Gemany without a TCO certificate. Because of the sensitive Swedish health system with regard to serious health strains, the TCO norms are based on medical findings on topics where in Germany, research and study are only being thought about at the moment.

In the early days of the TCO, the organisation was primarily concerned with assessing monitors, but in the course of the increase in computer users, the product range examined by the TCO has expanded to include PCs, printers and keyboards. The TCO standard is a sharper form of the MPR-II norm and its regulations serve to promote health within modern society.

Over the years, the various norms have been developed further on a regular basis and adjusted to suit various products. The first TCO norm was TCO '92, a further development of the MPR-II standard, which measures the radiation of an object at a distance of 30 cm. TCO '92 has now expired and is no longer valid, but in its time, it checked both the radiation values and how the monitor was switched off during breaks.

The subsequent testing certificate, TCO '95 for conventional cathode ray monitors, is also no longer valid and has not been in use since 2003. TCO '95 was concerned with the electronic condition of the products based on the DIN norm ISO 924 and also with image stability, brightness, symbol display and contrast for monitors.

TCO offices in Stockholm (Photo: TCO)

With the TCO '99 norm, the product palette covered was extended to include screens, flat screens, cathode ray monitors, PCs, keyboards and printers. It defined limits for magnetic and electric fields and provided guide values for ergonomics and emissions of the products. Monitors are also examined for the following characteristics: homogenous light density, display without flickering or spots, reflections of the screen’s exterior, power consumption in Standby mode, etc.

As well as these guidelines, the ecological characteristics of the products are also regulated with particular limits. Thus, products tested for TCO may not contain any CFCs or chlorinated solvents and no parts may be used which contain bromide or chlorine. The manufacturer is responsible for disposal and must have a contractual agreement with a responsible recycling firm.

TCO testing certificate for LCD monitors (Photo: TCO)

The TCO '01 radiation emission testing certificate, which also values user- and environmental friendliness, is awarded exclusively to mobile telephones. For emission regulation, a TCP value is measured which shows the actual power used by the telephone which arrives at the network antenna. The higher this value is, the higher the unused and lost broadcasting power. With regard to user-friendliness, the usability and design of the keypad, buttons and screen are examined. Here, it is also of particular importance that no heavy metals or flame-retardant substances.

The improved and stricter successor of TCO '99 is TCO '03 for cathode ray and flat screens. This testing certificate contains generally more precisely defined demands from TCO '99 and is also concerned with posture, monitor and surrounding colours and unimpeded view of the monitor. If a product is to be TCO '03 certified, it must meet a large number of criteria in the areas of ergonomics, emissions, energy and ecology. The successor of the TCO '99 for desktop and laptop PCs is the TCO '05 testing certificate.

The TCO '04 testing certificate is used for office furniture such as chairs or tables. This norm aims to prevent damage to the back and respiratory illnesses caused by chemical emissions from materials.

The latest and most sophisticated norm is the TCO '06 norm for multimedia screens. It guarantees the best quality for energy consumption, image quality and emission values.

Maintaining the TCO values is based on voluntary agreements throughout the world. All manufacturers who meet the criteria can have their products certified. Compliance with all guidelines is checked regularly in the form of random testing by the TCO. For customers, this system means an important aid in purchasing IT devices and an encouragement for the spread of sustainable use and production characteristics. It is especially recommendable that you pay attention to TCO criteria and select products displaying the testing certificates for a healthy working life.

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