EPEAT Talks 5 Years Of Greening Computers

For the last five years a rating system called the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) has been working to help consumers and manufacturers better understand the overall impact products have on the ecosystem based on a variety of different categories.

The registry of green computing products has become yet another benchmark, like Energy Star, for people to see how the items we use affect the world around us. As the group’s fifth annual report on products is set to be released to the public, EarthTechling spoke with Sarah O’Brien, EPEAT’s Director of Outreach and Communications, to find out more about the rating tool, which is celebrating a doubling in registered green products since 2010.

image via Shutterstock

What is EPEAT and what does it do?

EPEAT is a non-profit environmental rating system for electronics based in Portland, Oregon, now in its 5th year of operation.

At its most basic, the EPEAT is tool for people who want to purchase more green products so that they can see a simplescale environmental rating system. Ratings are  based on 51 different criteria addressing many different categories of environmental impact. The system was developed by stakeholders of all types, including manufacturers, environmental advocates and recycling professionals.

IT companies are very good at competing with each other around price performance and features – we wanted companies to be able to compete with one another on environmental performance as well, so we developed a central yard-stick to create that purchasing competition through environmental performance rating.

On what types of criteria are different products graded?

A lot of the categories revolve around the ease of recycling the product, what types of materials went into making the product, the product’s extended warranty which would enable it to be used longer. We also require that there is an end of life cycle recycling system in place, and of course that the product is Energy Star rated.

A product must pass 23 required criteria (out of 51 total) to meet EPEAT standards, and after meeting that base number the product is rated bronze, silver, or gold depending on how many optional criteria are met.

How does EPEAT benefit consumers?

Well, in our first year no products could meet the gold level. Leading companies like Apple, HP, Dell and others competed to get to that level and to be the first. That was a good measure that the standards were challenging enough for manufacturers to drive them to create better products. And now we have over 1,100 gold rated products on our list.

So, the EPEAT has been important in just raising the bar generally. When we first started, many of those products did not exist. We’re not the only driver of greener technology, but we’re facilitating that consumer demand to reflect environmental goals so that manufacturers who are changing and becoming greener are rewarded for those efforts.

In another example, when we first started there wasn’t much post-consumer plastic recycled content, and we went from none to 10% post-consumer plastic quickly, to today where now there are a large array products with the material, creating a greater demand for post-recycled content.

Also, today a high number of products go beyond the RoSH Directive (Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive that restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment) to the point that we’re rewarding manufacturers for trying to eliminate those some of substances, like mercury and cadmium, and we can get rid of more dangerous chemicals.

Aaron Colter is a freelance writer and marketing consultant in Portland, Oregon. A graduate of Purdue University, he has worked for the NCAA, Dark Horse Comics, Willamette Week, AOL, The Huffington Post, Top Shelf Productions, DigitalTrends, theMIX agency, SuicideGirls, EarthTechling, d'Errico Studios and others. He is also the co-founder of BananaStandMedia.com, a free record label, recording studio, and distribution service for independent musicians.