Texas Instruments TI-84 Plus Calculator

overall Rating:

0.8

planets

Julian Velandia
11/4/2020

Pros: Long-lasting, Energy efficient display

Cons: Monopolized market with limited innovation, Non-sustainable materials, Few manufacturing improvements

TI has successfully cemented this calculator as an educational staple, and it has maintained that crown for many years. TI, however, has used this position to maintain an overly high price for a product to which they have made little improvements. Perhaps when creating this product at first sustainability was not a top priority, however as technology improved and sustainability became more relevant in the public eye, it seems this calculator is stuck in time and is misusing its power. The original materials fall short for modern standards, and despite however well they continue to work, TI could use its research power and market position to improve this model for the better, and perhaps justify its price. Also, this product, along with many others from TI, lack more transparency as it is very hard to find what materials are used for them, and even harder to see their sustainability specifications. Furthermore, the statistics from TI’s sustainability and workplace reports show very moderate, and sometimes no improvement in the past four years.  This calculator is a sturdy, long lasting calculator, which helps make it more sustainable as it is not subject to planned obsolescence. There are newer models which may better match today’s standards, however, considering this sis consistently a best selling product, TI could make a huge impact by simply spending some the energy to improve the TI-84.

Background
The TI-84 Plus calculator from Texas Instruments is a staple of STEM education in high school and even beyond. They are essential to many schooling experiences, especially because they are the preferred choice for many standardized tests. These are graphing calculators, therefore they require a good enough processor and graphical screen. They also need to be sturdy, students carry them everywhere and heavily use them. The question is, how well has TI matched these requirements with sustainability efforts, such as increasing its efficiency, using non toxic elements in its screen or chips, and reducing the negative effects of its all plastic chassis?

what it's made of:

0.5

The calculator has very limited information on what it is made of, perhaps due to its age and/or the little demand for this information from a calculator. The hardware specifications do not mention the specific materials used, but we can see there is a big plastic case, a dot-matrix LCD screen, push buttons and inside there are three main integrated circuits. There is no indication that the outer case is recyclable, made from recycled plastic or any material other than raw plastic which does make it long-lasting. The dot-matrix LCD screen is made of multiple layers, various polarizing glasses, a liquid crystal layer and electrode layers and a mirror. These layers can be hard to recycle but most LCD screens can be recycled if handled properly. However, this dot-matrix style LCD, common in many older technologies, is long lasting and very energy efficient since it draws no power when it is simply standing-by. For the integrated circuits, there seems to be one large printed circuit board (PCB) which holds all the integrated circuits (IC). That means it holds the processor, memory and display driver, in addition to various electronic components to help supply power and other fundamentals. It looks very much like standard PCB for 2004, there seems to be little consideration for minimizing the use of unnecessary materials and the components likely come from outdated processes. Additionally, alkaline batteries are necessary, but they are not included. Although these batteries no longer create not hazardous waste, they are not easily recyclable, and face various recycling challenges.

how it's made:

0.5

Using the sustainability report from TI, we find moderate improvements in their processes. That is, lowered emissions per chip, lowered greenhouse gases, lower water emissions in the last four years. However, these improvements are not consistent, with a some years having higher metrics and only moderate improvements in recycling and waste reduction of materials. Furthermore, many of the improvements are normalized based on the number of chips on wafer and improved metrics per chip, however, the TI-84 Plus has chips that use old semiconductor technologies which likely miss many of the newer process improvement. Since 2004, TI has released new models but other than software updates, the TI-84 Plus has not changed in essence, yet it remains a best seller. That means the classic calculator keeps semiconductor technology that is likely much less efficient than current standards, drives the demand for outdated alkaline AA batteries but charges a premium for relatively cheap calculator by using its monopolistic advantage on standardized testing calculators. Furthermore, TI is currently creating software updates that restrict how much customization users can do their calculators. These types of restrictions are usually do not focus on sustainable as the usability of these devices is restricted and may force user to buy new devices.

who makes it:

1.5

This is made by TI, which had often been named one of the “World's Most Ethical Companies,” but is no longer in that list for the year 2020. It's board is 80% white, 60% male, and 60% over 60,  and the rest of the company is mostly male dominated yet diverse otherwise. The company has fairly strong supply chain policy, dramatically reducing the smelters which may not have conflict-free materials and keeping others under strict guidelines. There are also important benefits for US-based employees, however, it is unclear if workers abroad enjoy the same level of benefits. They also report few work related health incidents, however these are not declining, and have actually seen more work-related illness in the last few years. They have also reported a growth in turnover in the last year, despite a constant rate  in the previous four.