Green ICT in Europe: Too Many Local Standards Listing Too Few Products

We found back in 2010 that the European market for Green ICT products had many local standards with few certified products. That did not appear to best serve sustainability-oriented computer buyers, consumer or enterprise, who needed to make practical purchasing decisions incorporating sustainability. The number of products certified by these organizations appears to have declined in recent years. Only Sweden's TCO Development showed significant growth its certification database. We'll be updating this post in 2014 with another round of assessments.

2014

Eco Label (aka, Eco Flower) is still active, but the Eco Label product search capability appears non-responsive.

2012

Sweden's TCO Development has a database offering thousands displays and has grown its certification of computers from a couple dozen in 2010 to about ~400 in 2012. Each Nordic country except Iceland now has over 250 EPEAT Gold products to choose from.

2010

The Blue Angel, a German government initiative, describes itself as "the first and oldest environment-related label for products and services in the world…about 10,000 products and services in 80 product categories carry the Blue Angel eco-label" The Blue Angel listed ~25 desktop computers and one monitor in 2010 but there are none in 2012. By contrast, EPEAT Gold listings for Germany have tripled to almost 400.

The UK's Energy Saving Trust database has grown modestly to 21 desktops and 27 printers. EPEAT Gold offers over 300 products for the United Kingdom.

The Nordic Swan had a couple dozen ICT products, mostly from 1 manufacturer.

EU, itself, has its Ecolabel (Eco Flower) program, which still lists only ~20 ICT products, mostly notebooks from ASUStek. (See more about EcoFlower in comment, below.)

There have been European criticisms of the US-based EPEAT program, which covers 42 countries on five continents, but nothing of similar scope has yet emerged from local European efforts. The comment thread below contains a healthy discussion of some of these issues, as well as evidences a growing cooperation across the Atlantic.

We have added the products from these European ecolabels to our Greenest E-Gear listings, available to the right. None of these certification bodies appear to rate mobile devices.

UK mobile service provider Telefónica O2 jumps into the European mobile ratings vacuum with an 'Eco rating' for the mobile phones it sells from participating manufacturers. We've added their top-rated units to our Greenest E-Gear Mobile Phones.

EPEAT and Europe: Critique and Response

UK PC manufacturer VeryPC posts this undated comment on its blog:

EPEAT is currently (at the time of writing) not available to any organisations who do not have an office in the US and should not currently be used for EU public sector procurement for this reason. EPEAT is a multi-tiered standard, which awards Bronze for a number of criteria (most of which are a legal requirement in the EU anyway), Silver and Gold are awarded for a number of optional criteria. However it should be noted that the optional criteria include key areas addressed by The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) as a minimum specification for green procurement, meaning that an EPEAT Gold product might not meet the minimum standard outlined by DEFRA! Many of the optional criteria are quite gimmicky, allowing manufacturers to score points for “Own Brand Solar Cell Accessories” instead of carcinogenic fire retardants identified by the EU and DEFRA.

I asked EPEAT about this; spokesperson Sarah O'Brien replied:

This post is obviously dated, since it references some past conditions of the EPEAT standard – e.g. the grace period for ENERGY STAR adoption (prior to adoption of EStar 4.0, a much more complex requirement than 3.0) which was eliminated last year. All products on the registry are and will be compliant with the current (or upcoming) EStar specifications at all times.  

“EPEAT is currently (at the time of writing) not available to any organisations who do not have an office in the US”  EPEAT has always been available to, and used by, international purchasers and manufacturers. Our international expansion last summer ensured that users outside the US can review and select products specifically registered in 41 countries – thus increasing the system’s efficacy for non-US use. There is no requirement for a manufacturer to have a US presence and no need for it. EPEAT works closely with government, manufacturer, reseller and purchasers reps to address regional and local concerns as much as possible within EPEAT’s standard setting processes. From the UK, Defra (Dept of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) participates in our standard setting process.

EPEAT “should not currently be used for EU public sector procurement” is incorrect. It is true that under EU guidance, an eco-label (whether the EU flower, Nordic Swan, Blue Angel, EPEAT or other) cannot be directly required as the sole required means of complying with government contract specifications.  But it is entirely acceptable (and common) to use criteria addressed by one or more ecolabel standards and to use certification under an ecolabel regime as a method of demonstrating conformity with those criteria requirements. The UK Environment Agency, among other EU governmental entities, uses EPEAT criteria as a part of their contract specifications.

Finally, though the renewable energy criterion may be somewhat weak (as can result from consensus stakeholder processes) – it has resulted in solar chargers and other renewable energy accessories (“own brand” not required) being available to end users – which is a step in the right direction. This may not be the most pressing issue to address in reducing ICT’s environmental impacts, but it encourages exploration of opportunities for further integration of renewable power.
 
EPEAT, given its history, use and stakeholder nature, is a complex system and requires a careful understanding.  Hope I have been able to set the record straight and contribute to such an understanding for Vertatique’s international readers.

Blog Post

It's a personal blog (albeit on the company site), so I'd like to reply from a personal perspective.

Since writing the blog post I've made contact with EPEAT and had many of my issues heard, they are making a genuine effort to improve access to the program here in Europe and make it more appropriate to EU Procurement. I've decided to work with them and the BCS DCSG (British Computer Society) to improve the upcoming standards, as the existing PC standards have case law against them in public sector procurement (and by EPEATs own admission are a bit dated).

I realise the entry was not well referenced and refers to a number of beliefs at the time of writing.

My belief in the inability to access EPEAT in the EU was due to emails since 2006 including two on 26/06/2009 to the green electronics council (who run EPEAT) where I recieved no response. It was since then that I became appointed to the BCS SG position that I've had a two way dialog with EPEAT.

In relation to 'solar cell accessories' I referred to the optional criteria listed below, available on http://www.epeat.net/IandCIndex.aspx Manufacturers would score points for own branded solar cells, although many choose to bundle someone elses.

4.5.2 Use of renewable energy
4.5.2.1 Optional—Renewable energy accessory available Interpretation 1-9, Clarification 3-1
4.5.2.2 Optional—Renewable energy accessory standard Interpretation 1-9, Clarification 3-1

The optional criteria referenced is
4.1.6.2 Optional—Large plastic parts free of certain flame retardants classified under European Council Directive 67/548/EEC
Clarification 6-2

DEFRA Quick Wins miniumum mandatory criteria: Plastic parts >25 g are free from flame retardant substances/preparations above 0.1% classified as R45/46, R50/51/53 and R60/61 (67/548/EEC)
http://www.defra.gov.uk/sustainable/government/what/priority/consumption... (ref)

There is a cost of joining EPEAT, and several other standards charge a fee, often it's difficult for niche brand green companies to justify these costs. VeryPC BroadLeaf machines hit the key specification requirements of EPEAT gold, Blue Angel, DEFRA Quick Wins 'Class Leader' and several other eco standards.

Quick Wins, Energy Star and Energy Saving Recommended are free, so thats a good start! DEFRA do have a Quick Wins database, this is also info at the OGC, the 'Green Ticks' line up with DEFRA's standard.

As you've pointed out VeryPC are currently the only computer maker to have product endorsed by the energy saving trust under the Energy Saving Recommended Scheme.

I hope this clarification helps.

More ecolabel clarification

Pete -

Your comments do provide helpful clarification, along with your recent tweets (@PeteHopton), which I'll share here.

Ecoflower isn't well known and you've got to pay up to £25k/yr …Also Ecoflower for PC's is currently an overextended aged standard. It doesn't outlaw BFR, and is around Energy Star 4.

Matt

Readers can learn more about the hazards of BFR in e-gear and Energy Star 5 for Computers.

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