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Case Study: EPEAT - one of the most solid green ratings

Hiding its light

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EPEAT is a near-invisible environmental attribute ratings agency for notebook and desktop PCs and monitors. It is probably the most rigorous and relibable ratings agency of all yet you won't see its badges on any EPEAT-rated kit.

EPEAT stands for the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. It is a rating system designed to enable purchasers to specify environmentally-friendly PCs and monitors in their RFPs. Essentially manufacturers self-certify and use the tool. EPEAT is operated by the Green Electronics Council (GEC), the goals of which are:-

- Implement market-driven systems to recognise and reward environmentally-preferable electronic products.
- Build the capacity of individuals and organisations to design and manage the life cycle of electronic products to improve their environmental and social performance.

The GEC is part of the International Sustainable Development Foundation which is a 501(c)(3) “charitable” not-for-profit organisation located in Portland, Oegon. EPEAT is one of three GEC initiatives. What makes EPEAT so strong is that it is based on a standard; the IEEE 1680 Standard for Environmental Assessment of Personal Computer products (including laptop and desktop computers, and monitors).

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) funded the three year EPEAT development process through a cooperative agreement with the Zero Waste Alliance. EPA is also providing $375,000 in grant money over three years to the Green Electronics Council to fund the initial startup costs. By the end of the start-up phase, EPEAT will be funded by fees paid by the manufacturers based on their relative size in the market.

Compared to traditional computer equipment, all EPEAT-registered computers have reduced levels of cadmium, lead, and mercury to better protect human health and the environment. They are more energy-efficient, which reduces emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases. They are also easier to upgrade and recycle. In fact, manufacturers must offer safe recycling options for EPEAT-registered products.

Rating

Essentially manufacturers self-certify their products’ conformance to a comprehensive set of environmental criteria in eight categories:

- Reduction/Elimination of Environmentally Sensitive Materials
- Material Selection
- Design for End of Life
- Product Longevity/ Life Cycle Extension
- Energy Conservation
- End of Life Management
- Corporate Performance
- Packaging

These eight categories contain 23 must-have criteria and 28 optional ones. They cover energy-efficiency, waste, recycling and packaging. It is not just an energy-efficiency rating.

Notebook and desktop PC and monitor manufacturers use EPEAT to evaluate their electronic products according to three tiers of environmental performance – bronze, silver and gold. Rated equipment is listed on a register.

A bronze rating means the product meets all 23 required criteria. A silver rating means it meets all 23 required criteria plus at least half of the optional criteria, and a gold-rated product meets all 23 required criteria plus at least 75 percent of the optional criteria.

Before a manufacturer can use this EPEAT system to rate and declare the rating of their products they must sign an agreement with the GEC requiring them to be truthful in their declarations. An annual fee is also payable. The GEC itself will regularly select products from the register of rated products and test them independently. If any manufacturer's declaration is found to be wrong then it must be corrected or it will be deleted from the registry.

Participating manufacturers include: Apple, CTL Corporation, Dell, Fujitsu Computer Systems Corporation, Gateway, Hewlett Packard, Hyundai IT America Corp, Lenovo, LG Electronics USA, Mind Computer Products, MPC Computers, NEC Display Solutions, Northern Micro Inc, Panasonic, Philips Electronics Ltd, Samsung Electronics America, Sona Computer Inc., Sony Electronics Inc., Toshiba and ViewSonic.

HP was the first manufacturer to have a gold-rated desktop in June this year. Dell attained a gold-rated notebook in the same month and also registered a pair of gold desktops.

Dell now has 22 EPEAT-rated desktops, 44 monitors and 14 notebooks. The OptiPlex 745 Energy Smart MT is a gold-rated product. The OptiPlex 320 DT is a silver-rated one. There are no bronze-rated Dell products.

Not all of a manufacturer's products are rated and rated products need not, and mainly don't, have an EPEAT rating badge applied to them. This was decided to avoid having an excessive numberr of badges applied to products. This lack of EPEAT badging is thought by some to be a weakness.

Applicability

On January 24th this year, president Bush issued an Executive Order mandating that all federal agencies buy EPEAT-registered green electronic products for at least 95 percent of their needs. In addition, many US state and local government, large private sector organisations and a growing number of individual consumers also demand EPEAT-registered products. There are over five-rated products.

EPEAT is geographically-biased to American suppliers and buyers but its use is expanding into Europe. The recommendation by EPEAT staff is that UK (and mainland europe) requests for tendor for notebook and desktop PCs and monitors should specify that only EPEAT-registered products are acceptable.


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