Lenovo has just announced the very first EPEAT gold-rated computer monitor. It's odd that it has taken so long for a mere screen to get a gold rating, the most rigorous rating from EPEAT.

EPEAT stands for the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. It is a rating system designed to enable purchasers in the USA, and Canada, to specify environmentally-friendly PCs and monitors in their requests for procurement (RFP). Equipment manufacturers self-certify by using the tool. EPEAT is operated by the Green Electronics Council (GEC).

EPEAT's rating system was given a huge boost by the US government deciding that 95 percent of federal procurements of PCs, notebooks and computer monitors must be of EPEAT-rated products. There is more background information about EPEAT here.

There is an EPEAT standards roadmap, which discusses how the standard's scope is being extended to printers, copiers, TVs, servers and mobile devices. A family of relevant IEEE standards would be developed based on an existing IEEE 1680 standard used by EPEAT.

There is an obvious wish generally to extend the geographical applicability of EPEAT. It exists; it works; it's supported by manufacturers; it's verifiable. For any government body or environmental organisation to re-invent the EPAT wheel for their geography would seem to be a waste of time.

However, simply using EPEAT outside of North America is not completely practical.

US-ROW (rest of world differences)

For example, the European Union has its ROHS directive (Restrictions on the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive which requires manufacturers to provide evidence that their products don’t contain more than the restricted amount of hazardous substances). The USA does not. The EU has WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronics Equipment) dealing with recycling of electrical equipment; the USA does not.

EPEAT specifies, among other things, that rated-kit must have a take back facility supplied by the manufacturer. This is not needed as a specification in the European Union because the WEEE directive takes care of that aspect of electrical equipment's recyclability.

It may well be that an EU manufacturer of electrical equipment meets the WEEE directive (obviously so now) but would not meet the US EPEAT take-back specification. That means that manufacturer is at a disadvantage in the US compared to EPEAT-rated manufacturers' products. It also means that, were the EU to simply standardise its applicable IT purchases onto EPEAT-rated kit then manufacturers indigenous to the EU and not EPEAT-rated would be put at a disadvantage.

There has to be, if EPEAT is to be used outside of North America, some way of compensating for imbalances such as these.

Regionalising EPEAT registration

The EU, in global terms, is a region. The problem can be restated as there being a need to regionalise EPEAT registration and rating of products.

According to sources familiar with the situation EPEAT will be developing ways to regionalise registration – i.e. to create the capacity either to register different products in the system for different regions, where product names/numbers vary by market, or to register products as meeting the EPEAT criteria for some regions and not others.

Both of these options would make the system more flexible and better linked to market variance in product labelling, as well as better able to reflect the reality of specific services being provided in some regions but not others - such as take-back.

By developing such a regional approach, EPEAT would hope to meet the global demand to use its ratings without misleading or confusing purchasers about where and by what products the standard is met.

Where could this lead?

However, it may be that this is not enough. Such a registration development would not solve the problem of disadvantaged regional manufacturers.

What would?

A logical suggestion would be for some influential regional stakeholder to make EPEAT ratings directly applicable to its region. We could consider, for example, that as far as the take-back specification in EPEAT's system is concerned, that a theoretical EU EPEAT version would simply say that the WEEE directive was effectively meeting the take-back criterion.

That would be a fairly simple step. Others might be harder to work out and would require fairly complex discussions between the stakeholder, regional manufacturers, EPEAT itself and other interested parties.

EPEAT has no funding for this, being funded from within the US for US-focussed work predominantly.

What this leads on to is that there could be an EU country initiative to bring EPEAT rating applicability into that country's geography. There could even be an EU-level initiative.

These would be initiatives for individual countries or regional authorities to start as way of avoiding time-consuming and wasteful reinvention of a green IT equipment-rating wheel. Whether they will come to pass comes down to the views in relevant country and regional-level authorities.

In the EU that would be the Renewable Energies Unit of the Commission's Joint Research Center (JRC). In the UK it would be the Cabinet Office and DEFRA.

We will have to wait and see if either the UK or EU authorities decide that the EPEAT baton is one they could pick up and use in the green IT relay race.