EPEAT Products Offer Major Environmental Benefits, Study Finds

EPEAT Products Offer Major Environmental Benefits, Study Finds

The 36 million products sold during the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool's (EPEAT) first six months saved billions of kilowatt-hours of electricity and prevented the release of 40,000 tons of toxics into the environment, according to the group's first report.

EPEAT is a project of the Green Electronics Council and seeks to help institutions buy the greenest computers and monitors possible. The report, "The Environmental Benefits of the Purchase or Sale of EPEAT Registered Products in 2006," covers sales during the six months following EPEAT's launch in July 2006.

Among the findings of the report, which used the Center for Clean Products and Clean Technologies at the University of Kentucky's Electronics Environmental Benefits Calculator to evaluate the products' benefits, the 36.5 million EPEAT-registered products sold in 2006 saved 13.7 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, enough, according to EPEAT, to power 1.2 million U.S. homes for a year. The products also prevented the release of just over 1 million metric tons of GHG emissions, and avoided the disposal of more than 41,000 metric tons of hazardous waste.

The numbers surprised even EPEAT's staff. "We were absolutely blown away by the overall environmental benefits," said Scot Case, EPEAT's Outreach and Purchaser Relations Manager. "We had not imagined that there would be so many green products bought in such large quantities, and we were thrilled to see that in fact many of the greenest products are already some of the most popular products."

Case said his surprise stemmed in part from the fact that during the timeline studied in the report, from July to December 2006, there were only 100 EPEAT-registered products on the market. EPEAT currently counts 579 total products in its registry, including desktop and laptop computers and computer monitors. Case said EPEAT's rapid expansion is due in part to hardware manufacturers' concern about the environment, as well as prodding from computer purchasers.

In January, President Bush signed an executive order requiring all federal agencies to buy only EPEAT-registered products in its computer purchases. Case cited Premier Healthcare, a major purchasing organization for hospitals and health care facilities, as an example of a company that took EPEAT to heart from the beginning. "They actually take the Hippocratic oath, which is 'First, do no harm to your patients' very seriously, they specify EPEAT products because they see the connection with their patients' health."

EPEAT is a three-tiered, point-based system. There are 23 required criteria to meet the lowest level of EPEAT certification, EPEAT Bronze. These criteria cover the entire life cycle of a product, from a reduction of the toxic materials used in production of the products, to the energy it uses while it is in operation, and the recyclability of the materials at the end of life. Products that meet all 23 criteria receive Bronze certification, and those that meet an additional 14 or 21 optional criteria receive Silver or Gold certification.

Case said EPEAT has taken off around the world, almost from the very beginning; he said within a few weeks of its launch, the New Zealand Department of Defense had already included EPEAT in its contracts, and that several Canadian governmental agencies are also requiring EPEAT purchases.

The standard has great flexibility for international markets, Case said, especially in the face of the implementation of the WEEE legislation in Europe this month, and this week's launch of the U.S. EPA's Energy Star 4.0 standards. "EPEAT was designed as an umbrella standard: it incorporates ROHS by reference, the WEEE requirements by reference, and the Energy Star standard by reference. So any time that those standards goes up, EPEAT also goes up."

The group will conduct another study at the end of 2007 to evaluate the benefits of the first full year of the standards.