Is the pressure for green electronics mounting?

July 6th, 2017, Published in Articles: EE Publishers, Articles: EngineerIT

 

A few years ago it was fashionable to be “green”. Today it is considered essential and no longer just something that companies write about on their websites – at least according to the Green Electronics Council – headquartered in Portland Oregon, USA.

The Green Electronics Council (GEC) is a mission-driven non-profit organisation that collaborates to achieve a world in which only sustainable information technology (IT) products are designed, manufactured, and purchased. Founded initially to manage the electronic product environmental assessment tool (EPEAT), the GEC also promotes various other green initiatives in the USA.

EPEAT is a method for purchasers to evaluate the effect of a product on the environment. It assesses various lifecycle environmental aspects of a device and ranks products as gold, silver or bronze, based on a set of environmental performance criteria. Bronze-rated products meet all the required criteria in each EPEAT product category. Silver-rated products meet all the required criteria plus at least 50% of the optional criteria. Gold-rated products meet all the required criteria plus at least 75% of the optional criteria.

Public and private entities in more than 42 countries use the tool as a uniform purchasing specification. Brands that create environmentally preferable electronics register with EPEAT to build their reputation and to access procurement contracts. As a voluntary standard, the tool helps drive and reward environmental innovation among manufacturers, whereas regulations typically aim to remedy current problems.

With EPEAT, brands can both demonstrate and profit from their commitment to developing technology with a reduced environmental impact. Some of the biggest companies have registered their products including Samsung, Dell, Lenovo, HP, LG, Canon and many others.

The EPEAT system rates products based on environmental criteria in multiple device categories: PCs and displays, imaging equipment and televisions. Products that meet the required environmental criteria in these categories are eligible for inclusion on the EPEAT Registry. Environmental standards for additional device categories are under development.

Businesses and institutions play a major role in the transition to a low-carbon economy. With trillions of rand in combined purchasing power on a worldwide basis, organisations must increasingly make decisions that ensure a sustainable future both for their bottom line and for the planet. Specifying EPEAT in electronics purchase agreements also sends a clear signal to suppliers that the market demands more-sustainable practices throughout a device’s lifecycle.

Manufacturers register products based on the devices’ ability to meet various criteria developed and agreed upon by diverse stakeholders to address the full lifecycle of an electronic product. The GEC and other third-party assessors then audit the accuracy of those claims on an ongoing basis. This system ensures all products listed in the database truly represent environmental leadership.

EPEAT product registration is country-specific because product identification and environmental performance can vary by location. Registration by country enables potential buyers around the world to evaluate, compare and select the exact product models available to them based on the environmental characteristics that products attain in their country of purchase. Verification investigation is also country-specific, tailored to the claims made for products in each region.

The public standards on which EPEAT registration is based are the same everywhere; however, in order to broadly support the availability of environmentally preferred products, EPEAT enables manufacturers to meet a very small number of its optional criteria in some countries and not others. For example, a manufacturer may register a product in Lithuania and the United States even though the product’s solar accessory may only be available in the United States. Different registration records for each country make these country differences visible to purchasers and the public.

In the EPEAT system, device manufacturers self-declare which environmental criteria their products meet, with those declarations are overseen by a network of conformity assurance bodies that help manufacturers demonstrate that their products meet the IEEE 1680 family of “green electronics” standards. The IEEE family of standards provides clear and consistent environmental performance criteria for the design of electronic products, thereby providing an opportunity to secure market recognition for efforts to reduce the environmental impact of electronic products.

The system was launched in 2006 with 60 products from three different PC and display (monitor) manufacturers. The PC category includes 52 different environmental criteria – 23 required and 28 optional – that measure a product’s efficiency and environmental attributes. In 2013, two additional categories made their EPEAT debut: imaging equipment in February and televisions in April.

Multiple international organisations provide EPEAT-registration services for manufacturers in North America, Europe, Asia, South America and Australia. These organisations include Green Electronics Council’s Conformity Assurance Body, Dekra, UL Environment, Intertek, TuV Rheinland, CQC, CESI and VDE. Each company has auditors qualified to evaluate the conformance claims of electronics manufacturers and suppliers.

When developing EPEAT criteria, stakeholders considered existing regulatory requirements at the national and international levels and whenever possible matched or exceeded these levels to avoid conflict. EPEAT’s strength lies in its comprehensiveness as a system that addresses all stages of a product’s lifecycle.

Currently South Africa is not amongst the 42 EPEAT countries. The latest country to join is India. Membership is not government driven but mainly by industry. Governments in many countries support the EPEAT system by only procuring products that are EPEAT registered.

Perhaps it is time for one of South Africa’s industry associations to take the lead and take us on the road to procuring products that are environmentally-friendly and sustainable.

For on more on EPEAT see www.epeat.net  or greenelectronicscouncil.org. Watch a short video at www.epeat.net/about-epeat/.