UPDATED: Standard will identify 'green' computers

Editor's note: This story was updated at 12 p.m. May 16, 2006, to clarify the description of the Green Electronics Council.

Federal agencies can look for a "green" seal of approval when they want to buy eco-friendly electronics. The Environmental Protection Agency announced a voluntary manufacturing standard this week that will help computer buyers select desktop PCs, notebook computers and PC monitors that are environmentally friendly.

The Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) standards body approved the measure for gauging a computer's greeness. In order to market their electronics as green, manufactures will have to do more than just use a lot of recycled and non-hazardous materials. The computers must be designed to last longer, be more energy-efficient and easier to upgrade.

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

The Portland, Ore.-based Green Electronics Council, a nonprofit that the EPA funded to manage the EPEAT program, developed EPEAT in cooperation with state and local governments, industry and academic institutions.

Vendors can begin registering their products later this month in an online database that the council will maintain. Buyers will be able to search the registry beginning in June.

Several federal agencies already cite EPEAT in their acquisition guidelines. The draft solicitation for NASA’s popular SEWP governmentwide acquisition contract notes that all IT equipment and associated products and processes should to the greatest extent possible meet the evolving standards associated with the IEEE EPEAT standard.

“The contractor shall have the ability to respond to specific requests and requirements centered on the EPP such as requests based on the Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool (EPEAT),” the draft solicitation states.

The Army, Homeland Security Department and Interior Department also include EPEAT language in requests for proposals.

EPA estimates that in the next five years purchases of EPEAT-registered computers will reduce hazardous waste by 4 million pounds--that's the weight of about 266 elephants--and save enough energy to power two million homes.

Leaders of the project said they hope EPEAT changes buying habits across 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."

Holly Elwood, of EPA's Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program, said that "manufacturers really needed to know that if they built it, we as purchasers would come.”

Other EPA officials said that as technology advances, the green computer standard will grow and expand. Jeff Scott, EPA Waste Division director of the Pacific Southwest Region, said, “I think we are going to look back to this time and say this was the start of something really big and really good.”


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