Should EPEAT be in the Retail Market?

Posted by on February 16, 2009 in EPEAT | Comments Off on Should EPEAT be in the Retail Market?

When EPEAT was originally begun in 2003 and implemented in 2006, one of the key drivers for the standard was to provide a consistent method for institutional purchasers to specify environmental characteristics for IT products by calling out EPEAT as the requirement in bids and proposals.  This worked well and motivated manufacturers as it provided a purchasing incentive to meet EPEAT criteria and strive for more and more points until they achieved Gold level products.

Though criteria were written with institutional purchasers in mind, there was nothing that would prevent a consumer or retailer from accessing the EPEAT database and browsing through all the listed products to examine the various environmental criteria being claimed.  There are only a few criteria that may not directly apply in the consumer space, just based on the way they are worded in the standard (Product and packaging takeback, for example).

Now, though, several years later, the EPEAT IT product standard is undergoing an update and revision as well as an expansion into other products – Imaging devices like printers and scanners and Televisions.  The discussion has been reopened as to whether or not EPEAT (or specific product categories within EPEAT) should jump directly into consumer and retail space.   There are (as always) both advantages and disadvantages to staying focused in the institutional space or also overtly designing the standard for both institutional and consumer purchasers.   These concerns include cost of design changes to products, education and marketing to consumers, additional verification by the EPEAT administrative organization, The Green Electronics Council (GEC) and many others.

There is an obvious desire by consumers to be informed as to the environmental benefits or attributes of the electronic products they want to buy.  Today, however, without any set “holistic” environmental standard in the consumer space, it is very difficult to compare these benefits from one product to another or one manufacture to another.  Energy Star has done a good job of educating purchasers about the energy use of products but what about other aspects – recycling, hazardous materials, use of recycled materials, ease of upgradability etc.  The lack of a standard and the desire for more informed purchasing was a driver for the initial development of EPEAT so it would seem to make sense for EPEAT to move into this area.

However, the purchasing power of a single individual or even thousands of individuals is far less than the purchasing clout of a single institutional purchaser like a government agency or a university that could purchases tens of thousands of IT products at once.   There is a cost to the manufacturers to design and manage products for EPEAT compliance that manufacturers were willing to undertake for the institutional purchaser knowing that there would be a likely return on investment (the manufacturers, after all, are in the business to make money first and foremost).

Products for institutional purchasers were, for many manufacturers, designed with different characteristics to meet the demand of those users – they didn’t need the most intensive graphic cards or the largest hard drives or fastest processors but did demand more attention to security features and services for end of life and data destruction.   It was, technically, simpler and more familiar ground to create a more environmental product in the institutional space knowing there would also be a payback.  The consumer, though, generally was looking for the fastest processors and graphics capability and didn’t consider the energy use or materials the system was made from as important so it was both technically more difficult to achieve portions of EPEAT (or Energy Star) and riskier as the ROI on the design changes wasn’t as assured on the retail level.

The question is:  Are those assumptions still true today?

The current EPEAT working groups and the IEEE standards balloting is occurring now and will continue for the next 18 months.  I would encourage anyone interested in helping forge the future of EPEAT and answer that question to participate in these groups in giving their time, experience, insight and/or funding the development of the standards.  The previous post talks a bit about each group and where to go to find more information.

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