By John DeFore
Website Greener Computing reports today that three U.S. departments — NASA, the Department of Defense, and the General Services Administration — have announced plans to limit future computer purchases to models that meet the environmental standards of EPEAT.
EPEAT, a program based in Portland, Oregon, is designed to help computer buyers find the most environmentally responsible electronics available and to give manufacturers a straightforward, hype-free area to categorize their offerings according to how well they meet EPEAT’s public standard. That standard evaluates 51 specific criteria, including: the type of materials used in making the device and the way they are labeled for eventual disposal; sensible packaging and available take-back service; and, of course, energy efficiency. In the interest of getting the most use out of computers before they’re discarded, one of the criteria even insists on models’ being “upgradeable with common tools.”
One of the longest categories of criteria deals with “Reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials,” a hot topic in the electronics industry, given how much e-waste enters landfills: there are bullet points regarding “elimination of intentionally added” cadmium, mercury, lead, PVC, and hexavalent chromium, although EPEAT’s “bronze” certification doesn’t require meeting this part of the standard.
A product registry lets users search through which devices meet one of three levels of certification (bronze, silver, and gold); while manufacturers list products on the registry themselves (in the interest of eliminating any time-consuming test/approval period in this notoriously fast-paced industry). Each entry is subject to verification by EPEAT.
Since the federal bureaucracy buys computers on such an enormous scale — Greener Computing quotes a figure of 2.2 million new systems a year, and one would assume NASA and the Defense Department are responsible for a sizable chunk of that number — manufacturers are bound to take notice of the new requirement. If past experience with the Energy Star program is any indication, the eventual result will likely be more efficient and eco-conscious computing products for ordinary consumers, as well.