EPEAT is complicated. Those of us steeped in the system – stakeholders who helped develop it, staff involved in the ongoing verification that ensures registrations are accurate, consultants and labs that do the investigation work – can forget that most people don’t live in a world of standards, criteria and verification.
Recent discussions in the media remind us that that many people really don’t understand the fundamentals of EPEAT. Some argue that we shouldn’t let products “pass” our investigations if they don’t meet aggressive requirements that aren’t actually part of the publicly-developed standards EPEAT is based on. Others imply that we conspire to pass products that shouldn’t qualify – assuming we have the power to bend the rules.
The reality is both more positive and more mundane.
EPEAT requirements are designed through an open stakeholder-based process. For the PC/Display standard, more than a hundred individuals were involved– – including leading environmental advocates, public purchasers, government staffers, academic researchers and recyclers, in addition to manufacturers. The objective of this process is to develop specifications which push product design and services to become significantly more sustainable, and enable purchasers to purchase environmentally superior products to meet their needs.
Once standards are defined and agreed-upon, EPEAT’s focus becomes verifying products that are on the registry. EPEAT staff are not directly involved in the investigations, and do not have any authority to alter the requirements to let participants off the hook. Through investigations by independent contractors, products are either found conformant to the standard or not. All findings of nonconformance are made public, potentially embarrassing system participants, to ensure that there are consequences to manufacturers for products’ failure to meet EPEAT requirements.
In the most recent verification round, the products investigated were found to comply with the criteria under review, including disassembly for upgrade and recycling. Based on public discussion, you might think that the IEEE 1680.1 standard outlawed certain product design approaches and that EPEAT simply ignored those requirements for some reason. In fact, like most EPEAT criteria, the ones addressed in this investigation don’t define permitted and forbidden methods of product design and construction. They require outcomes – in this case, easy and safe disassembly and upgradeability – that are critical to reducing the environmental impact of these products.
This outcomes-based approach allows manufacturers the flexibility to find innovative ways to realize desired environmental goals and is one of the strengths of the EPEAT system. The detailed investigations undertaken affirmed that the products could meet the outcome requirements in question despite using new design and construction approaches.
For those who think the 1680.1 criteria we investigated aren’t stringent enough – good news! EPEAT stakeholders will soon engage in a new cycle to refresh the PC/display standard – and you can be a part of that process to drive requirements in the direction you think best.
When EPEAT began, the 1680.1 standard was so challenging to meet that it took a year for the first product to qualify at the “gold” level. Over the years, products have been designed to align with the requirements – to the point that more than 1500 products have achieved the Gold rating in EPEAT’s registry. Let’s acknowledge that in that process, the system has done exactly what it was designed to do – to drive changes throughout the sector that will reduce products’ environmental impact.
In the virtuous cycle that is core to of our world of standards, criteria and verification, this milestone is an indication that we are making a difference. It also means that it’s time to create rigorous new criteria to help advance our mission. For those who want to participate in the next round of EPEAT definitions, we are looking forward to your engagement!