Green PC Push by Feds May Seed Wider Adoption

Federal agencies are being required to buy eco-friendly PCs and monitors -- a mandate that likely will broaden the availability of such systems.

The U.S. government is moving ahead with a plan to require federal agencies to buy PCs and computer monitors that are energy efficient and have reduced levels of toxic chemicals. And because of the governments massive buying power, the plan likely will affect systems bought by corporate users as well.

The U.S. Department of Defense, NASA and the General Services Administration jointly detailed an interim rule on the green IT purchasing requirements in the Federal Register on Dec. 26. The draft rule hews to an executive order signed by President Bush last January mandating that agencies use the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.

EPEAT is a three-tiered rating system developed by the Green Electronics Council in Portland, Ore. Qualifying desktop systems, laptops and monitors are awarded gold, silver and bronze ratings based on 51 criteria, such as ease of disassembly and the absence of paints or coatings that arent compatible with reuse or recycling.

Products must conform to 23 of the criteria to get a bronze rating, the minimum level required. To earn a silver or gold rating, devices have to meet more-stringent standards for example, 90% of the materials used to make them must be reusable or recyclable.

The federal government has a total installed base of 6.7 million desktops and laptops, and it buys about 2.2 million new systems annually, according to Shawn McCarthy, an analyst at market research firm IDC.

Because the government is such a large user, PC vendors will hustle to comply with the new federal rule, McCarthy said. And since the vendors dont make PCs specifically for government users, he added, 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 developed by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Several major agencies already adhere to EPEAT criteria, including NASA, the EPA and the Department of Homeland Security. Some private-sector firms have adopted it as well. For instance, Kaiser Permanente buys about 5,000 PCs per month that meet the EPEAT criteria, said Dean Edwards, vice president and chief procurement officer at the Oakland, Calif.-based health maintenance organization.

Of particular interest to Kaiser is EPEATs requirement that desktops and laptops conform to the strictures of the Energy Star program. The EPA revised its efficiency standards for PCs last summer, and Edwards said that systems purchased by Kaiser since November consume 20% less power than prior models did.

Enforcing environmental standards can help cut the total cost of ownership on PCs, according to Edwards, who also would like to apply EPEAT to copiers and multi­function printers. Kaiser currently aims to buy PCs with silver ratings, but Edwards said the HMO eventually may make the gold rating its purchasing goal.

Only a few vendors have earned gold EPEAT ratings thus far. Dell Inc., for instance, 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. Apple Inc. has 17 products that meet the requirements for a silver rating. (Editor's note: The numbers in this paragraph were correct when an original version of this story was posted on our Web site on Jan. 6. But between then and the posting of this version of the story taken from our print edition, HP introduced nine more PCs that have EPEAT gold ratings.)

Wayne Rifer, EPEAT operations manager at the Green Electronics Council, said PC makers that are members of the group were involved in the development of the rating system. Many took part because they were concerned that state governments might adopt their own environmental rules for IT purchases, resulting in a hodgepodge of standards. That is a very strong motivator probably the core motivator for them to be engaged, Rifer said.

Some PC buyers require ratings higher than a bronze, according to Rifer. For instance, he said that the Canadian government mandates at least a silver rating on products and gives extra points during the contracting process to bidders that have gold ratings.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

7 inconvenient truths about the hybrid work trend
Shop Tech Products at Amazon