US government ‘abandoning’ green electronics rating system

By Leigh Stringer, Chemical Watch

NGOs warn that Epeat scheme is no longer mentioned in White House green procurement order

9 April 2015 / United States, Electrical & electronics

A new presidential Executive Order on US federal sustainability efforts could mean that a tool that allows purchasers to identify electronics products that meet standards on hazardous substances is abandoned by the federal government, two NGOs claim.

Executive Order 13693 sets out requirements on how federal departments and agencies will increase resource efficiency and improve their environmental performance. It includes guidelines on the purchasing of environmentally sustainable electronics products but has drawn criticism for failing to mention rating system, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (Epeat).

Initially funded by the EPA, Epeat was developed to help institutional purchasers select and compare electronics equipment on their environmental performance. One of the orders required agencies to acquire Epeat-registered electronic products for at least 95% of acquisitions.

The Electronics Takeback Coalition and the Green Electronics Council (which manages Epeat), say that by deleting references to the tool, the order effectively revokes the provisions included in two previous federal government orders, which established and maintained it.

“Federal Agencies, private sector purchasers and environmental advocates alike have asked the Obama Administration to continue the Executive Order reference to Epeat,” said the Green Electronics Council. “They have expressed surprise at the appearance of abandoning an important sustainability programme that has worked through voluntary, market-based incentive rather than regulation.”

In a letter to the Federal Environment Executive, plus several members of congress and government agency officials, including Jim Jones, head of the EPA’s chemicals office, Electronics Takeback Coalition national coordinator, Barbara Kyle, says Epeat encourages companies pursuing safer chemical strategies to go beyond simply what is regulated.

“This is critical, as regulations around the world are barely scratching the surface of the hazardous chemicals problem in electronics,” she adds. The letter recommends that Epeat is included in the order’s implementation instructions.

The NGOs are also concerned with a clause in the order that gives agencies the option to use any voluntary standard, developed using a consensus process. The groups say such a approach, which would involve multiple stakeholders identifying standards, would not guarantee the use of strong criteria or provide meaningful guidance to federal purchasers for identifying greener products.

“We urge you to revise the executive order and eliminate the low bar option for selecting purchasing standards, simply because they are a so-called ‘consensus’ standard,” the letter says.

To qualify for Epeat registration, electronics products must meet certain environmental criteria. Products are measured against both required and optional criteria and are then rated bronze, silver or gold, depending on how many they comply with.

The scheme covers PCs and displays, imaging equipment and televisions. It includes several categories of environmental attributes that cover the full lifecycle of electronic products, including the reduction and elimination of environmentally sensitive materials and use of hazardous substances.

For PCs and displays to qualify, they must comply with the EU Directive on the restriction of hazardous substances (RoHS) in electrical and electronic equipment, report on the amount of mercury in light sources and eliminate intentionally added SCCP flame retardants and plasticisers in certain applications. Optional criteria include use of batteries free of lead, cadmium and mercury, PVC-free large plastic parts and the elimination of intentionally added hexavalent chromium and cadmium.

Imaging equipment and televisions must also comply with RoHS. These two categories are also required to comply with provisions of the EU batteries Directive. Optional criteria include further reduction of the use of lead and cadmium under the RoHS Directive and chemicals on the EU REACH candidate list of substances of very high concern (SVHCs).

Epeat was developed by representatives from electronics manufacturers, environmental groups, trade associations, government, recycling firms and academics.

Further Information

Executive Order

Electronics Takeback Coalition letter

Green Electronics Council press release