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U.S. to require agencies to buy green PCs, monitors

Feds publish proposed rule mandating use of environmental rating system on IT purchases

January 6, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The U.S. government plans to require federal agencies to buy PCs and computer monitors that are energy efficient and include reduced levels of toxic chemicals -- a requirement that likely will affect corporate users as well because of the government's massive buying power.

The Department of Defense, NASA and the General Services Administration jointly detailed an interim rule on the new purchasing requirements in a notice published in the Federal Register on Dec. 26, and they are accepting comments on the proposal through Feb. 25. The new rule formalizes the use within the government of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, which some agencies and private-sector companies have already adopted.

EPEAT is a three-tiered rating system developed by the Green Electronics Council in Portland, Ore. Under EPEAT, qualifying desktop systems, laptops and monitors are awarded gold, silver and bronze ratings based on how well they meet 51 environmental criteria, such as ease of disassembly and the lack of paints or coatings that aren't compatible with recycling or reuse.

Products are required to conform to 23 of the criteria to get a bronze rating. Earning a silver or gold designation is dependent on meeting more stringent EPEAT standards, such as having 90% of the materials in a system be reusable or recyclable, or using batteries that are free of lead, cadmium and mercury.

The federal government has a total installed base of 6.7 million desktops and laptops across civilian and military agencies, and it buys about 2.2 million new systems annually, according to Shawn McCarthy, research director for government vendor programs at market research firm IDC.

Because the government is such a large user, PC vendors will be hustling to comply with the new federal rule, McCarthy said. And since the vendors don't make PCs specifically for government users, he said, "you will see spillover into other sectors, much as you did once the government pushed Energy Star compliance back in the mid-1990s." Energy Star is an energy efficiency rating system for various products that is being extended to servers by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last January, President Bush signed an executive order requiring EPEAT compliance within the government. While that order set a direction for federal agencies, putting it into action required amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulation purchasing standards. The acquisition councils for civilian agencies and the Defense Department have now agreed on the needed changes to the standards, according to last month's Federal Register notice.

Only a few vendors have earned gold EPEAT ratings thus far. For instance, Dell Inc. has six products with gold ratings and 72 at the silver level. Hewlett-Packard Co. has earned a gold rating for one desktop system, plus 73 silver ratings, while Apple Inc. has 17 products that meet the requirements for a silver.



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