First eco-friendly computers certified

Meanwhile, a new report encourages e-cycling initiatives

The first wave of eco-friendly computers that carry a new green seal of approval to identify them as environmentally friendly has arrived. Government and private-sector leaders announced July 21 that more than 60 products from three companies — Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Computer Technology Link — are the first entries in a new online registry of certified products.

The announcement came on the heels of a new e-waste report released by the Bush administration that features recommendations for a nationwide system to recycle used electronics hardware, including advice for agencies.

The Commerce Department’s U.S. Technology Administration issued the document, “Recycling Technology Products: An Overview of E-Waste Policy Issues,” based on a 2004 roundtable discussion with manufacturers, retailers, recyclers, environmental organizations and other stakeholders.

Although much of the report concerns industry behavior, one suggestion aimed at federal officials states: “Use the federal government’s leverage as one of the country’s largest IT buyers to drive design improvements, manufacturer participation in recycling solutions and end-of-life services.”

Agencies are slowly taking steps in this direction. A little more than a year ago, the Environmental Protection Agency launched the Recycling Electronics and Asset Disposition contract, which helps agencies recycle old electronic equipment in an environmentally responsible manner. Although some EPA offices and a few other agencies have used the program, it is not popular governmentwide.

Last week’s report also encourages the creation of incentives for companies that design environmentally sensitive hardware.

The new green seal is one such incentive. All of the goods showcased July 21 meet a voluntary manufacturing standard, which was developed by the nonprofit Green Electronics Council (GEC) with funding from the EPA and approved by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

The standard should help government and industry computer buyers select monitors and desktop and laptop PCs that are environmentally friendly from design to finish. GEC will maintain an online registry of certified products.

The proof of green purchase is part of a ranking system, referred to as the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), which rates computers according to their effect on the environment. To qualify for the base Bronze EPEAT level, a product must meet 23 criteria.

As of this month, $31.6 billion worth of government contracts reference EPEAT. They include requests for proposals issued by the Defense Department, NASA, the Interior Department and Massachusetts, according to GEC.

Buying EPEAT-registered products will also help feds with the e-cycling problem. Customers have the option of asking participating vendors to retrieve the equipment at the end of its life cycle.

EPA officials have distributed sample contract language for soliciting EPEAT-approved hardware to several federal IT procurement divisions. The agency is also publicizing the benchmark to managers of all federal governmentwide acquisition contracts.

Joanne Woytek, manager of NASA’s popular Scientific and Engineering Workstation Procurement program, said the movement toward environmentally sound technology has begun to influence purchasing patterns in the same way that Section 508 accessibility now dictates all procurement guidelines.

The green machine

Government agencies have wanted to buy eco-friendly information technology systems for years, but they could not tell the difference between green and false advertising, federal officials and nonprofit groups say.

If feds choose products registered in the new Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) system, they know they are getting computer equipment that is energy-efficient and has lower levels of cadmium, lead and mercury than traditional computer equipment does. The EPEAT-registered products are also built to last longer and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

Dell products account for about half of the offerings in the EPEAT registry. The company recently introduced plans to provide free recycling for all Dell products. Its current e-cycling service recycles any brand of computer for free — but only with the purchase of a new Dell computer.

Computer Technology Link, a growing company in the Northwest, has one desktop PC in the registry so far. The company intends to register a full line of computers based on this first listing.

Government agencies in Oregon are using green machines, said Mike Mahanay, director of marketing at Computer Technology Link.

“EPEAT fits into the direction we were moving anyway,” Mahanay said. “We’re anticipating that our customers, like Oregon, are going to be requiring EPEAT. We will be aggressively registering many more products.”

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