The federal government and major electronics firms today pledged to support responsible e-waste recycling and promote energy efficient products.
As part of its National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, announced this morning, the government will set new energy standards for federal agencies to follow when buying electronics. Dell, Sprint and Sony, meanwhile, have committed to use third-party certified recyclers for the e-waste they dispose of.
"(Certification) helps to bring up the quality of the service being provided," said Darren Beck, manager of corporate social responsibility at Sprint.
Developed by the EPA, General Services Administration (GSA) and White House Council on Environmental Quality, the strategy's overall goals are to promote the design of efficient and environmentally-friendly electronics, promote e-waste recycling and boost the domestic e-waste recycling market.
"One thing the federal government can do, and companies as well, is if they put their money where their mouth is in a way that translates to greater action," Beck said.
To that end, the GSA will apply energy efficiency and environmental performance standards to the IT purchasing contracts used by federal agencies, and weed out products that don't stack up. The GSA will specifically only include products that meet Energy Star or EPEAT standards.
"Having a major customer like the General Services Administration put their procurement dollars behind green mobile phones, that would accelerate Sprint's progress and the industry's progress," Beck said.
He also said the GSA's action could influence companies that are looking to put more of an environmental focus on their purchasing policies, possibly looking to the government for best practices.
Those third-party certifiers look at recyclers to make sure their recycling practices, and those of their downstream vendors, are not harmful to the environment or human health, as most thoughts of e-waste conjure up images of children sitting on piles of smashed electronics and people burning parts in the open to extract materials.
Beck said the commitment already lines up with Sprint's internal goals calling for all recyclers it works with to be certified by the end of 2012, all of its remanufacturing partners to be certified by the end of 2013 and for none of its e-waste to be shipped from developed countries to developing countries.
As part of the commitment signed with the government, Sprint additionally plans to track how much of its e-waste enters and leaves recycling facilities, audit its recyclers and other downstream facilities, and publish data on electronics it sends for recycling, including how much per state, if its commercial or consumer e-waste, type of waste, how it was collected and if recyclers are certified.
The GSA will also track the government's used electronics to ensure they're reused or recycled properly, and the government hopes to get more industry players to sign commitments in support to responsible recycling.
Beck said those voluntary agreements, along with using the carrot of the government's buying power to support efficient products, are key to positive action.
"When you can nurture a collaborative environment," he said, "you'll have greater results than mandates that can be divisive."
E-waste image CC-licensed by nim/Flickr