Of mice and monitors: The science of green tech ratings systems

Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Intel and Toshiba, along with Best Buy and Walmart, are teaming up with the Sustainability Consortium to dream up a system for helping consumer buyers identify "green" electronics.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

There are plenty of green tech rating systems to use as a guideline for choosing products. In fact, one might say there are TOO many different systems, which tends to dilute the impact of any particular label or logo or designation. Well, get ready to add another one into the mix. Maybe.

The Sustainability Consortium, which teamed up last year with Walmart to work on a way of classifying and identifying sustainable products, is now working with several big-name technology giants -- Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Toshiba -- to research and publish information that will help the consortium figure out a rating system for declaring certain electronics products green. Mega-retailers Best Buy and Walmart are also in on the action.

The Sustainability Consortium is, in turn, affiliated with Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas.

This group is essentially focused on what criteria should be used to identify what makes one piece of electronics greener than another. So, they'll consider the impact of how a product is built, what options exist to dispose of it at end-of-life, and energy usage. The group views its work as an extension of existing efforts, notably the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) and Energy Star. The main difference when you compare this group's work with that of EPEAT, according to executives representing the project, is that its main focus is on commercial and government usage. This new research will focus on creating a consumer-ready ratings system.

On a call held to discuss the aims of the project, Dell's environmental strategist Scott O'Connell emphasized that this group doesn't plan to start and maintain a ratings system itself -- for either its own or competitors' products. In fact, O'Connell believes that the group will wind up working with third-party organizations such as the Green Electronics Council, which manages the EPEAT rating system, to move forward.

The first products to be addressed would be monitors, desktops and laptops. The initial research will be released in the third quarter.

It should be interesting to see just how closely this group winds up working with EPEAT.

Just this week, the EPEAT ratings information became available on online retailer Amazon.com (last time I checked, Amazon had a pretty big consumer influence). The EPEAT information is now part of Amazon's "Green listings," which are found within its electronics section.

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