Doing Our Job
There’s been a lot of heat generated around the recent verification of multiple manufacturers’ ultralight products by EPEAT. I’d like to shed some light on the issues at stake.
First – let’s cut to the chase and clarify a few points about the recent verification that may get lost in media discussion:
Regarding upgrade capability, the criteria specifically state that products may be upgraded or extended “by a high performance serial bus (IEEE Std 1394™ [B4]) or Universal Serial Bus (USB)”. Regardless of opinions about whether or not that is appropriate or acceptable language, the hard fact is that EPEAT has no authority to ‘flunk’ products if they meet the explicit terms of the standard.
Regarding disassembly: The criteria under discussion are located in the section of the standard that addresses Design for End of Life – that is, design for effective recycling. The criteria investigated are not in any way aimed at refurbishment or repair. Again, people may think that there should be more in the standard about disassembly for repair and refurbishment – and we welcome their views – but these criteria do not apply to that topic.
The standard also doesn’t prescribe or forbid specific construction methods such as fasteners versus adhesives – it just requires products to be easy to disassemble for recycling. The test lab went through the disassembly process and reported that the products were all easy to disassemble with commonly available tools.
But pursuing this debate over the details of one investigation is a distraction from the purpose and significance of the EPEAT system and what it has accomplished.
The work of defining the standards that are applied in EPEAT happens through a public, stakeholder consensus process. Participating environmental advocates, purchasers, manufacturers, government agencies, researchers, recyclers and others hash out the environmental performance criteria by which products are rated in EPEAT. Once that process is complete, EPEAT’s job is to rigorously enforce those requirements.
The 1680.1 standard underlying EPEAT’s PC/Display registry is not perfect. The criteria it contains are the result of stakeholder consensus. That never will produce a flawless or “best” standard, but it has produced the most effective standard – the best at changing the marketplace and improving the environmental performance of an industry, as EPEAT has done over the past six years.
Before EPEAT existed, even highly experienced “green purchasers” struggled to adequately address the environmental impact of electronic products. On the manufacturer side, it was risky to commit to environmental improvement strategies, because environmental requirements were proliferating and suppliers couldn’t be sure their initiatives would be rewarded by the market.
The EPEAT system was structured to encourage continual improvement by providing progressive ratings and by regularly updating the environmental performance criteria products must meet. It took a year for any products to meet the Gold rating requirements after the registry launched, because it was extremely challenging to do so. Over time, the EPEAT PC/Display criteria have become more familiar and companies have designed them into their products and supply chain requirements. That’s a good thing. In fact the whole point of the EPEAT system is to drive change… Our goal is to create a new bottom line for environmental innovation that affects the whole global industry for the better.
Today we have more than 50 suppliers of all sizes participating in the system and developing products and services to meet the requirements. As a result, there are some 1800 unique Gold-rated products registered in EPEAT. The environmental benefits of this system are tallied every year, using a calculator developed by US EPA – see 2010’s report here: http://www.epeat.net/2012/03/news/earth-911-infographic-ecobenefits-of-green-gadgets
New design, engineering and marketing approaches have altered the landscape since the standard was issued. For those who think the current criteria need improving or expanding – good news! They can join the standards development process to revise and strengthen the PC/Display criteria.
The system is moving forward as intended, to widen its scope and add challenging new requirements. New standards for Imaging Equipment (IEEE 1680.2) and Televisions (IEEE 1680.3) were just published on October 16 and point a direction forward, with requirements for a broad array of new criteria around end of life management, greenhouse gas reporting, disassembly, chemicals disclosure, and much more. A major reason EPEAT stakeholders haven’t yet revised the PC/Display standard is that they’ve been focused on developing these other product standards. We expect that stakeholders will pull many of these new criteria over into a revised PC/Display standard, resulting in a faster more streamlined process.
With these new standards in place, and stakeholders preparing to update the PC/Display standards EPEAT is poised to keep the intended progress of standards development, application and verification, and revision going strong. We encourage critics of the system to push for their points of view in the standards development process – where it counts.
– Sarah O’Brien