Our friends at Epeat Inc. in Portland this week released their 2010 annual report detailing the progress the electronics industry is making to produce more environmentally responsible products. The products (including notebooks, desktops, and monitors) purchased in 2010 that met Epeat's criteria will, in the words of the report:
- Reduce use of primary materials by 15.7 million metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 48 Empire State Buildings.
- Reduce use of toxic materials, including mercury, by 1,156 metric tons, equivalent to the weight of 192 elephants.
- Eliminate use of enough mercury to fill 437,048 household mercury fever thermometers.
- Avoid the disposal of 59,525 metric tons of hazardous waste, equivalent to the weight of four Eiffel Towers.
- Eliminate 31,991 metric tons of solid waste, equivalent to the solid waste produced by more than 16,052 US households annually… [Save] over 9 billion kWh of electricity, which is enough to power 757,416 US homes for a year. [Avoid] 36 million metric tons of air emissions (including greenhouse gas emissions) and over 77 thousand metric tons of water pollutant emissions. [Reduce] over 1.6 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to taking nearly 1.1 million US passenger cars off the road for a year.
These are some impressive figures that capture the environmental “savings” achieved through the sale last year of 2,139 unique products in 41 countries. In all, 54 companies participate in Epeat's certification and registration program. The list of companies reads like a Who's Who of the PC and laptop market and includes Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Toshiba.
The services Epeat provides are good for the planet. And the organization has made huge progress in the seven short years since it was established by the Green Electronics Council. The number of unique Epeat-qualified products more than doubled in 2010. And the non-profit has plans to expand the standard beyond the desktop/laptop market to include TVs and copier/imaging products in 2011.
Participating in Epeat is important to the OEMs that have made a commitment to sustainability. It provides them with a useful environmental standard that covers the entire product lifecycle, including product design, material use, supply chain compliance, energy use, production, and end-of-life recycling. Companies use the criteria to earn gold, silver, or bronze ratings that corporate and government purchasers consider in the procurement process. You might even see the Epeat logo on a laptop in a retail store.
So why isn't “Epeat” a household name like “Energy Star”? In part, because Epeat's marketing budget pales in comparison to that of Energy Star, which is a joint EPA/Department of Energy program. But more important, it's because the organization is not consumer-focused — its customers are the OEMs themselves and institutional buyers at corporations and governments that are required to consider environmental factors in their purchasing decisions.
For Epeat to become a recognized brand by consumers it will require the marketing muscle of the OEMs and brand owners in concert with their retail partners. Consider Wal-Mart. Back in 2008, the world's largest retailer made the decision to require the computers, air conditioners, and TVs it sells to be more energy efficient. In the US that meant compliance with Energy Star. The decision advances the commitment to sustainability by all the brands that want to be inside the big-box stores.
When Epeat or another green seal of approval gets the nod from the Wal-Marts and Best Buys of the world, then we'll see a marked uptick in involvement across the electronics industry. Last year the Sustainability Consortium announced plans to create such a standard for electronics that attempts to leverage existing efforts and avoid duplication where possible with organizations such as Epeat.
Does your company participate in Epeat or the Sustainability Consortium? If not, you might want to consider getting on board.