Feds correct problems created by Executive Order on electronics purchasing

June 11th, 2015
Modern network hub with blue patch cables

Photo: iStockphoto

White House says EPEAT is currently the only tool available that meets its electronics stewardship mandates

The White House today issued “implementing instructions” for its Executive Order 13693, which fix the problems the March 19th Order created regarding EPEAT and federal electronics purchasing.

The Executive Order had created a problem when it revoked a previous Order requiring that the federal government use the EPEAT label to guide at least 95% its electronics purchases, and then left the door open so that agencies could use basically any standard meeting some very low-bar requirements.  The Electronics TakeBack Coalition considered this Executive Order language to be an open invitation for some non-leading electronics companies (or their industry association) to establish a new eco-label that is not as strong as the EPEAT criteria, and would be easier to meet.

Others shared our concerns, and many public and private institutional purchasers, who use the EPEAT label to guide their electronics purchasing, joined us in providing feedback to the White House on the perhaps unintended consequences of the Order.

What the Implementing Instructions Say

The implementing instructions fix the problems and confusion created by the Executive Order by:

  • Closing the door it threw open for other weak standards to be used, by clarifying that other standards can only be used if the EPA doesn’t have a recommended standard for the product category. This was a specific recommendation that many of us made to the White House. The EPA already recommends using EPEAT on its greener products website and it’s hard to believe they won’t continue to do so.

“Where there is no specification, standard, or label recommended by EPA, an agency may elect to use other open and voluntary standards in a procurement.” Page 56

  • Clarifying that even though it removed the EPEAT mandate, EPEAT is the only label that meets its requirements:

“Unlike prior executive orders, E.O. 13693 does not include a specific reference to Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). However, EPEAT is currently the only tool available to achieve the electronic stewardship mandates of section 3(l) of E.O. 13693. Any future tools shall meet or exceed current levels of sustainable and environmental performance.” Page 65

  • Raising the requirement for purchasing products meeting the recommended standard from 95% to 100% of electronics purchases:

“Unlike prior executive orders, E.O. 13693 requires that all applicable procurements, rather than 95%, of purchases for electronic products be environmentally sustainable including those electronic products typically used in office spaces and data centers.” Page 65

The Electronics TakeBack Coalition commends the Federal Environmental Executive Kate Brandt and her team for including this clarifying language in the implementing instructions. We recognize that at some point there may be competing labels that are “as good or better” than the current EPEAT label, and that the EPA may recommend using them in addition to EPEAT.

We only hope that these labels or standards will choose to become part of the EPEAT program (even if they were not developed under the EPEAT system) and place the qualified products on the EPEAT registry.  This is important because it’s this one-stop-shopping aspect of EPEAT – having all of the information on qualified products in one place – that makes the EPEAT program so attractive and effective for purchasers.