‘Green’ computers can replace toxic PCs

Transportation Security Administration has bought 450 green PCs in past 6 months

The Transportation Security Administration recently discovered that it is as easy and economical to buy environmentally friendly PCs as those that are not. When TSA refreshed the computers at 450 airports where the agency has offices, it purchased Dell PCs that met the energy efficiency provisions of President Bush’s recent executive order  to improve energy and environmental management.

Choosing an environmentally friendly product was voluntary, said Joe Peters, TSA’s deputy chief information officer. “The combination of capabilities, technology, environmental concerns, ergonomics and price all played a role in the decision process,” he said. Computer makers, such as Dell, are working to manufacture greener products at a lower cost, he added, “so from that perspective, it was an easy decision.”

Starting in August 2006, TSA refreshed the computers at 450 airports and its headquarters for $24 million, said Kathryn Jones, environmental protection specialist at TSA’s Office of Occupational Safety, Health and Environment. All the Dell computers met EPEAT silver-level standards, Jones said.

EPEAT is an acronym for the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. Agencies can use that tool to evaluate, compare and select desktop computers, laptop PCs, and monitors based on environmental attributes that meet the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers’ Standard for the Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer Products.

EPEAT Silver is a midlevel environmental certification. Bronze is the baseline EPEAT certification.

“Unless the costs become prohibitive, which in turn would cause the product not to be best value, there really are no reasons to purchase non-EPEAT-certified products,” Peters said.

A standard feature of EPEAT products lets system components, such as hard drives and monitors, go into sleep mode after a certain period of inactivity so they consume less power. 
   
The federal government is the biggest purchaser of information technology products, and consequently, it contributes the most to the IT waste stream, said Holly Elwood, EPEAT program manager at the Environmental Protection Agency’s headquarters. The government also has a huge influence on the IT market, she added.

“We have an opportunity and responsibility to buy…the products with the littlest environmental impact as possible and send that message to the marketplace,” Elwood said. “We’re doing that by buying EPEAT products.”

Fifteen manufacturers now list 386 registered products that meet the EPEAT standard, Elwood said. The Homeland Security Department, of which TSA is a part, will provide EPEAT products through its FirstSource and Eagle contacts.

In March, the EPA awarded blanket purchase agreements to Dell for EPEAT-certified PCs and with resellers for other EPEAT-certified hardware. “Unless you are buying a high-end machine, there is no price differential” for EPEAT computer equipment, said John Katz, pollution prevention coordinator in EPA’s Region 9 in San Francisco. The number of companies offering EPEAT products keeps the prices competitive.    

All EPEAT-certified products must be energy efficient according to EPA’s Energy Star criteria and meet European Union restrictions on hazardous substances. The EU set a specific threshold for toxic materials, such as lead, cadmium and mercury, used in the manufacturing process, Elwood said.

EPEAT manufacturers offer a product disposal service at the end of their products’ useful life and recycle their products in an environmentally responsible way.

EPEAT products are designed to be easily recycled, Katz said. 
EPEAT computers are a procurement option for fedsAs global warming and other environmental issues gain prominence, agencies are beginning to do their part to buy “green.” Environmental experts say computers with an Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool certification are less toxic to the environment than computers that do not have that certification because they:
  • Contain almost no lead or six other toxins typically found in electronics equipment.
  • Use recycled materials that, in turn, can be recycled.
  • Meet strict standards for energy efficiency.
  • Use packaging that is free of toxic chemicals and is recyclable.
  • Are designed to be easily upgraded.
  • Can be returned to manufacturers who agree to recycle their products responsibly.
Source: Green Electronics Council

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