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by John Katz, Wayne Rifer and Allen R. Wilson

Green Electronics
A Look at the Development of EPEAT


here is a growing desire by governmental and private institutional purchasers to reduce the environmental impact of the electronic products they buy. To date, however, institutional purchasers have not been able to easily distinguish environmentally preferable products among all those in the marketplace. There was no consensus on what environmental aspects of a product should be evaluated, how they should be weighted, and how those aspects could be incorporated into the purchasing process. Current ecolabels are either not well known, or the range of certified products is too limited for large purchasers. Governmental purchasers also lack the expertise to evaluate complex environmental issues. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a new approach for institutional purchasers to identify and evaluate environmentally preferable electronic products.

It establishes a clear set of performance criteria for desktop computers, laptops and monitors and recognizes higher levels of environmental performance. The tool was developed by a multistakeholder group composed of equipment manufacturers, governmental and private purchasers, non-governmental organizations and environmental professionals. It is designed to be easy to use, with an interactive Web site to speed product registration. The registration process will not slow time to market for new products. The tool encompasses a range of environmental attributes, including toxic materials, material selection, lifecycle extension, energy use, design for end of life and end-of-life management and packaging. There is significant pent-up market demand for EPEAT. Currently 14 federal agencies and four states have pledged to use the tool in future electronics purchasing, representing more than $10 billion in purchasing potential. As a result, several

26 Volume 1

Issue 3


we will review the current market for green electronic products. In addition. In addition. which can be difficult to justify given the short product cycle for many electronic products. This article will review the development of EPEAT.IT0705_PROCESS_Katz 6/30/05 9:45 AM Page 27 PROCESS MANAGEMENT major manufacturers have indicated an interest in registering that their products meet the EPEAT standards. A review of ecolabels by the Electronics Industry Alliance (EIA) found more than a dozen programs that involve third-party certification to specific standards. As the need for IT equipment grows.95 billion in 2006. the Swedish TCO label and the Japanese Eco-Mark. As a result. all these efforts are still struggling with defining what makes a greener electronic product. This has galvanized activists to demand that manufacturers and purchasers improve the environmental footprint of electronic products. and many more self-declaration programs. State and local purchasing is estimated to be double that amount. the criteria considered and the next steps in its development. a February 2005 review of certified products on the TCO Web site found only four portable computers EPEAT Development Team Member Affiliations PURCHASERS (PUBLIC AND PRIVATE) ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ US Department of the Interior State of Massachusetts State of Oregon City of Seattle GATX Inc. more than 18 states. Massachusetts. thereby committing to incorporate environmental considerations when buying. 30 counties and 20 cities have policies establishing preferences for a wide range of environmentally preferable products. office automation and telecommunications. Minnesota and the 15-state Western States Contracting Alliance (WSCA) have included environmental criteria in recent contract specifications for IT equipment.6 billion in 2004 on information technology (IT) infrastructure. the European Union’s Eco-Flower. Zero Waste Alliance ENVIRONMENTAL AGENCIES ■ ■ ■ Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance US Environmental Protection Agency CA Integrated Waste Management Board ITAK Volume 1 ■ Issue 3 27 . maintaining and disposing of electronic equipment. some of the labels require significant investment of time and cost. EIA found that labeling programs attempt to differentiate their label by adding unique criteria. ACADEMIC INSTITUTIONS ■ ■ ■ New Jersey Institute of Technology Tufts University University of Tennessee NGOs ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition Center for a New American Dream Northeast Recycling Coalition Healthcare for a Healthy Environment INFORM Inc. California will be developing purchasing guidelines for environmentally preferable electronics in July 2005. Electronics are one of the fastest growing segments of the solid waste stream. The federal government spent $10. This means manufacturers are forced to respond to requirements that vary widely in terms of the environmental aspects covered. and is projected to spend $10. Pitney Bowes ELECTRONICS MANUFACTURERS ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ ■ Apple Computer Dell Computer Electronic Industries Alliance Hewlett Packard IBM Intel Panasonic Matsushita Electronics Sharp Electronics RECYCLING INDUSTRY ■ ■ ■ ■ Noranda Recycling United Recycling Industries International Association of Electronics Recyclers Waste Management Inc. There are three executive orders mandating federal agencies to buy environmentally preferable products. Finally. For instance. Purchasers also find that current ecolabels do not include a broad enough range of products to meet their need for competitive bids. A recent report entitled Exporting Harm published by the Basel Action Network showed how waste electronics are poisoning communities in developing countries. First. manufacturers do not widely support these labels. To date. however. so does the demand for greener products. While they share many identical criteria. However. The criteria addressed by these labels can vary widely. including the structure of the tool. more than 14 federal agencies have signed up for the Federal Electronics Challenge. Some of the best known are Germany’s Blue Angel. Increasingly. these procurement policies are targeting electronic products. the level of documentation required and the relative weighting given to environmental attributes. Currently. NATURE OF THE GREEN ELECTRONICS MARKET The government purchasing market is large and growing.

materials selection. Be low cost. To register a product. ■ Inform purchasing decisions by institutional purchasers regarding the environmental attributes of electronic products. The tool is now in a transition phase. government and private purchasers have tried to develop their own. so the criteria are stringent enough to promote better environmental design. and 34 system units for desktop personal computers. The German ecolabel Blue Angel also has limited offerings. the EPEAT organization will randomly select a subset of qualified products each year to verify their qualification. ■ Address the lifecycle of electronic products. EPEAT was meant to establish a leadership standard. the EPEAT system will provide purchasers with a simple and verifiable program for the selection of environmentally sustainable products. Once that process is complete. via a Web-based interface.” The development team identified that the tool should: ■ Promote continuous improvement in the environmental performance without stifling. RESPONDING TO THE NEED The development of EPEAT was prompted by the growing demand by institutional purchasers for an easy-to-use evaluation tool that allows the comparison and selection of electronic products based on environmental performance. The draft criteria address eight key areas: reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials. product longevity. The mission of the development team was to “develop an environmental procurement tool designed to help institutional purchasers in the public and private sectors evaluate. while reflecting existing technologies and technical limitations so that a supply of EPEAT products will be available to purchasers. ■ Provide sufficient value in the marketplace to sustain itself. and check to ensure product submissions are entered correctly and completely. lifecycle extension. as those recommendations are being honed and a host organization is being chosen to implement the tool. All the criteria needed to be measurable or quantifiable. convened a set of stakeholders to establish the scope and process for developing a tool that would meet this demand. ■ Silver: Product meets all 22 mandatory criteria plus at least 16 optional criteria. ■ Gold: Product meets all 22 mandatory criteria plus at least 25 optional criteria. and put forward a draft set of criteria. maintain the Web site. ■ Taken as a whole. It established both a proposed structure and process for evaluating and registering products to EPEAT criteria. and while encouraging. and packaging. Following an initial scoping meeting and stakeholder assessment. Manufacturers will selfdeclare. manufacture and end-of-life management. use and end-of-life. including but not limited to design. ■ Offer market advantage for companies that provide products and services that achieve improved environmental performance.” To verify that the tool works. They have found. corporate performance. The three tiers are defined as: ■ Bronze: Product meets all 22 mandatory criteria. the manufacturer can market those products to purchasers as “EPEAT registered. The electronics industry welcomed and actively participated in the development of EPEAT and envisioned EPEAT as a way to communicate relevant and meaningful information to institutional purchasers about the environmental impacts posed by electronic products. that they do not have the resources or expertise to collect and evaluate the complex environmental information needed to identify and select environmentally preferable electronics. ■ Produce credible.IT0705_PROCESS_Katz 6/30/05 9:45 AM Page 28 PROCESS MANAGEMENT and 20 system units (all of submitted by one company). design for end of life. manufacturers select Issue 3 ITAK . Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). the EPEAT development team was convened to design the system. user friendly and cause minimal delay in time to market. Manufacturers will sign a formal Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that commits them to provide accurate product and company information and provides for remedies should inaccuracies be discovered.S. See Table 1 for a list of organizations represented on the EPEAT development team. 28 Volume 1 ■ PROPOSED STRUCTURE AND CRITERIA FOR EPEAT The EPEAT tool will recognize three tiers of environmental performance for electronic performance—Bronze. Lacking a consistent standard they can apply. More than twothirds of the system units are slight model variations provided by only two companies. however. compare and select desktop computers. Most criteria refer to environmental performance characteristics of the specific product (which is defined as chassis and marketing model). environmental organizations. The host organization will manage the MOU process. The development team was composed of representatives from electronics manufacturers. recyclers and federal and state environmental agency representatives. The complete set of EPEAT criteria includes 22 mandatory criteria (all criteria must be met to achieve “baseline” EPEAT ranking) and 33 optional criteria (producers can pick and choose among these criteria to boost their EPEAT baseline “score” to achieve a higher ranking level). The criteria were developed to ensure that EPEAT is a balanced and comprehensive tool that covers multiple environmental attributes throughout the product’s lifecycle. There are only seven computer monitors listed as certified. laptops and monitors based on their environmental attributes. end-of-life management. that their specific products meet EPEAT criteria. so there was no question about subjective judgments in the registration process. public and private purchasers. verifiable outcomes that are accepted by relevant stakeholders and. Silver and Gold. through a grant from the U. The development team completed its work in November 2004. innovation. procurement. The Zero Waste Alliance.

the criteria will provide a single. The EPEAT criteria are designed to be used as a comprehensive whole. The implementation team expects to select a host organization or organizations by mid-2005. such as having a corporate environmental policy. whether the standard development function and certification and validation functions should be separated. manufacturer agreements. practical system for manufacturers to demonstrate the environmental performance of their products. and add new products to EPEAT. The main task remaining is to select a host organization (or organizations) that will take on the task of implementing the EPEAT system. The development team also gave clear direction that the host organization should regularly revise the existing criteria to reflect changing technology. In the meantime. the EPEAT system—the criteria. there are several that address general corporate programs. Region 9. NEXT STEPS FOR EPEAT The development team completed its work in November 2004. and commitments to future updates and extensions—will provide purchasers with a simple and verifiable program for the selection of environmentally sustainable products. Taken as a whole. In addition. Some factors being considered in the selection of the host organization include whether or not the it should be an official standard setting body. It established a smaller implementation team to manage the transition of EPEAT from the development phase into full implementation. data and documentation requirements. Doing so would weaken the impact and results of the overall EPEAT process.IT0705_PROCESS_Katz 6/30/05 9:46 AM Page 29 PROCESS MANAGEMENT those criteria that apply to that particular product. The development team strongly recommends that users of the EPEAT tool do not selectively pick and choose among the EPEAT criteria or amend or modify their potential product scope or application. In addition to the product-specific criteria. and the ability of the host organization to support a robust tool. Environmental Protection Agency. Wilson is with Intel Corp. processes for after-market verification. Allen R. The EPEAT stakeholders request the EPEAT package be followed in its entirety. the Web-based registration tool is currently under development. launch the system and register products by early 2006. Wayne Rifer is the EPEAT project manager with Rifer Environmental. John Katz is pollution prevention coordinator with the U. That organization will be expected to conduct a public review process for the current criteria. The overall EPEAT result carefully balances stakeholder concerns and promotes overall environmental improvement. .S.

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