Agencies want eco-friendly tech

Federal agencies that want to make environmentally friendly electronics purchases will get some much-needed guidance this summer when a “green” seal of approval hits the market. The Environmental Protection Agency announced a voluntary manufacturing standard earlier this month that will help computer buyers select desktop PCs, notebook computers and PC monitors that are environmentally friendly.

The standard is part of a ranking system, referred to as the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), that rates computers according to their effect on the environment. To qualify for the base Bronze EPEAT level, a product must meet 23 criteria in a range of eco-related categories. Manufacturers can choose to attain Silver or Gold status by meeting additional specifications.

The standard was developed with EPA funding by the nonprofit organization Green Electronics Council (GEC) and approved by the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Vendors will begin registering their products later this month in an online database that GEC will maintain. Buyers, including federal agencies, will be able to search the registry beginning in June. Several agencies already cite EPEAT in their acquisition guidelines.

Scot Case, GEC manager of marketing and purchaser relations for the EPEAT program, said agencies have wanted to buy eco-friendly computers for years, but the supply was not there. Manufacturers could not cater to the different eco-friendly requirements of each organization.

“Once you get purchasers agreeing on specifications and putting money on the table, industry is always going to participate,” Case said. “It really was the federal purchasing that made it possible. Now states and private industry are starting to incorporate EPEAT into their contracts.”

A more recent driver has been the introduction of an Office of Management and Budget score card for environmental stewardship, which will grade agencies, in part, based on the extent to which they buy eco-friendly electronics.

The EPEAT team will eventually create additional standards for other electronics, such as printers and copiers, said Holly Elwood, project manager of the EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program. In addition, manufacturers have stated that the green products will not cost buyers more than comparable computers that lack the EPEAT status.

Leaders of the project said they hope EPEAT changes buying habits throughout the federal government and the nation. “Agencies were really interested in buying greener electronics, but it was pretty hard to identify them,” said Jeff Omelchuck, GEC director and EPEAT program manager. “Purchasers needed a clear definition of green and a simple way to identify which products were actually green.”

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