Dec 31 2009

It's Getting Easier to Be Green

These are busy times for information technology shops when it comes to buying environmentally friendly desktop and notebook computers.

For the first time, there is a standard to help agencies make buying decisions. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers has given the official nod to IEEE 1680, the first U.S. standard on buying green desktop and notebook computers and monitors. It publicly released the standard at the end of April. And, in June, there will be an online tool, at to help apply the standard to actual buys.

While the Environmental Protection Agency created the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool for all large buyers of desktop and notebook systems, government agencies are a major target of the initiative given that federal agencies spend more on IT annually than any other company or organization in the world.

Seeking Help

Agencies have clamored for help on how to make smart green systems purchases. Buyers “want consistent environmental criteria for comparing and selecting computers and monitors,” says Holly Elwood, project manager of EPA’s Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Program.

Some big federal buys plan to apply EPEAT, including the Homeland Security Department’s $6 billion FirstSource IT commodities buy, NASA’s $4 billion Science and Engineering Workstation Procurement IV, and the Veterans Affairs Department’s $4 billion PC Hardware and Software 3. Meanwhile, makers of desktop and notebook systems and monitors have begun work to design products to the meet the criteria, including Apple, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, NEC, Panasonic and Sharp Electronics.

The effort focused on what will “foster green product design by setting challenging, yet realistic criteria,” says Larry Chalfran, executive director of the Zero Waste Alliance, EPA’s partner on the effort. Chalfran and Elwood led the IEEE 1680 Working Group.

The Green Electronics Council, which won a grant in February from EPA, will begin populating the EPEAT site with product ratings at three levels: bronze, silver and gold. EPA has identified 22 required criteria for a bronze rating and then 32 optional items that can earn a product a silver or gold. These criteria mesh with the new standard.