Electronics Eco-Label Standard Finally Passes–but it’s still far from perfect

I have to admit that it was with mixed feelings that I received the recent news that the two latest EPEAT (electronics eco-label) standards for Imaging Equipment and Televisions has finally passed!  It felt good to know that when you buy electronics you will soon have a way to identify and purchase more environmentally-friendly printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, and televisions!  However, electronics are still very far from “green”.  This eco-label by no means signifies that all issues have been resolved.  The truth is that we aren’t going to shop our way out of the problem. (If you aren’t already familiar with the environmental and public health problems related to the lifecycle of electronics, check out “The Story of Electronics” and the information on our website ).

Still, after spending countless hours in a 3+ year process with well over two hundred participants (mostly from industry), to develop these two standards, it was definitely a relief to know that our hard work will actually be used.

Throughout the development process, electronics and chemical companies  continually sought to weaken the standards and delay the group’s progress. The good news is that in the end, we succeeded in getting some notable wins. For example, the final standards include:

  • requiring  manufacturers to use certified e-waste recyclers for their registered products’ take-back programs;
  • requiring all products  meet the most recent version of Energy Star and continue to meet the latest version to remain on the EPEAT registry; and
  • requiring that the enclosures/casings of all Imaging Equipment be free of brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), with additional points available for removing these problematic substances from other parts of the product.

The two standards are expected to be published later this fall and we anticipate that manufacturers will start to register their eligible products soon after. Consumers can expect to see EPEAT labels on some new TVs and imaging equipment by mid-2013.

So, while EPEAT is not the perfect tool, it is a step in the right direction and one of the better tools that we have at the moment. It will be up to all of us to use it and send a signal to the companies that we expect more from them – if you do have to buy a new piece of equipment, use the EPEAT registry to find the highest rated products possible (and give preference to registered products that meet some of the more challenging optional criteria. Check back on our website for guidance on this once the registry is available.)

Center for Environmental Health has been working hard to push EPEAT and the standards development organization that it is housed under (IEEE) to adopt a more balanced, equitable process – essentially creating a more level playing field for non-industry stakeholders to participate and advocate for a strong standard. Through our involvement to date, we also discovered a need for greater clarity and agreement amongst all participants about what we are collectively working towards. What would a more sustainable electronic product actually look like and what steps are needed for the industry to get there?  CEH and our allies in the Electronics TakeBack Coalition are now working to create that longer-term vision and a roadmap for the future.