The Periodic Table of the Supply Chain

In the past decade a new wave of regulations have been passed in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, waste recycling, rare earth minerals and consumer product safety, which are changing product design and supply chain management strategies.  At the current pace of regulation, one will need a PhD in chemistry and a law degree to be able to manage supply chain operations.  Below is a list of some of the elements on the watch list:

#6 – Carbon (C) – has become synonymous with greenhouse gas emissions that are associated with global warming.  Consequently, carbon compounds, primarily CO2, are the target of numerous emissions reduction regulations and the focal point of various non-governmental organizations.

#27 – Cobalt (Co) – is widely used in rechargeable batteries and recordable media.  Sometimes mined in Central Africa with various human rights violations, Cobalt is considered a “conflict mineral.”  The mineral is widely dispersed in the Earth’s crust providing a number of different sourcing options.

#39 – Yttrium (Y) – has a variety of commercial applications ranging from powering superconductors to fighting cancer cells.  Only a few tons of Yttrium is produced each year, the majority of originates in China.  In September 2009, China placed limitations on exports of rare earth minerals such as Yttrium to protect the environment and conserve scarce resources.

#48 – Cadmium (Cd) – is primarily used in batteries to power electric devices.  Cadmium poses numerous health risks including possible links to cancer.  Cadmium is one of six substances banned through the European Reduction of Hazard Substances (RoHS) directive which governs the content of electronics.

#50 – Tin (Sn) – is used widely in electronics as a protective coating or for solder.  Tin is sometimes combined with other elements into alloys.  Sometimes mined in Central Africa as a conflict mineral, Tin can be good or bad depending upon where it comes from.

#60 – Neodymium (Nd) – is used in lasers, electric motors, microphones, professional loudspeakers, in-ear headphones, and computer hard disks.  Neodymium was used in the original Sony Walkmans due to its magnetic properties.  The majority of mining occurs in China where the local government has imposed export restrictions on such rare earth minerals.

#63 – Europium (Eu) – is used in television sets, LED lights and fluorescent lamps.  In the 20th century Europium was used to display the color red in TV sets.  Although it was named after Europe, the majority of mining occurs in China today.  Europium falls under China’s rare earth mineral regulations.

#65 – Terbium (Tb) – is used in television sets, fluorescent lamps, naval sonar systems and solid state devices.  Terbium also is amongst the rare earth minerals, predominantly mined in China.

#66 – Dysprosium – is used in nuclear reactors and high intensity lighting.  Dysprosium can also be used in drive motors for hybrid electric vehicles.  99% of the world’s Dysprosium is mined in China.  The rare earth metal has experienced significant price increases during recent years, which will likely continue with China’s export restrictions.

#74 – Tungsten (W) – has a high melting point, making the element popular for use in high temperature environments such as Cathode Ray Tubes (CRTs) and light bulbs.  Tungsten is also used extensively on integrated circuits.  Tungsten is included in the category of conflict minerals originating in Central Africa.

#73 – Tantalum (Ta) – is a good conductor of heat and electricity.  Tantalum is often used in capacitors found in mobile phones and personal computers.  One of the primary conflict minerals, Tantalum from Central Africa should only be sourced from mines employing fair labor practices.

#79 – Gold (Au) – Because of its electrical conductivity and resistance to corrosion, Gold is popular in audio, video and computer connector cables.  Gold is also used in mission-critical computers, spacecraft and jet aircraft engines.  Mined in the Central Africa, Gold can be a conflict mineral as well.


#80 – Mercury (Hg) – is extremely toxic.  Historically, Mercury was used in various switches and batteries.  Today its uses include Neon signs, cosmetics and medicines.  It is amongst the banned substances governed by the RoHS directive.  Mercury is also regulated via the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

#82 – Lead (Pb) – Is a poison that can cause brain and blood disorders when ingested, particularly by small children.  Lead is used in a variety of products from radiation shielding to construction materials.

Consumer product safety regulations such as the CPSIA minimize the use of lead in paints, especially for children’s toys, books, apparel and games.  Lead is also amongst the banned substances included in the European RoHS directive.


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