S'pore addition to EPEAT a 'positive move'

While move to allow vendors to register "green" PCs in Singapore good, effort for now will have little influence on PC buying decisions, says analyst.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Consumers and corporate entities in Singapore will soon be able to check the "green" credentials of PCs and computer displays from major vendors in the country.

The island-state is the 41st, and latest, country to be included in the EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) initiative. The Green Electronics Council (GEC), which administers the program, is expected to announce Thursday.

EPEAT is a comprehensive environmental rating program for desktops, laptops and PC monitors. Products that fulfill 23 basic criteria will be awarded the bronze rating, while those that meet up to 28 additional requirements are eligible for the silver or gold award. Manufacturers are able to register models in multiple countries, made possible by the opening up of the EPEAT registry last August.

Singapore joins other Asian registries which include China, Japan and Taiwan.

Under the island-state's EPEAT registry, Toshiba will become the first manufacturer to register products. The Japanese vendor's 23 locally-registered notebook models, which include systems under Toshiba's Portege and Satellite range, have all received the gold rating.

According to a Toshiba spokesperson, the company began registering its notebooks under EPEAT in July 2006. "We felt that EPEAT was a fair and unbiased system since it is run by a nonprofit organization--the GEC--and since the underlying standard was developed with U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) support.

"We found the IEEE 1680 standards, on which EPEAT is based, are possibly the most reliable set of criteria in existence in terms of evaluating a wide array of environmental attributes for computers and monitors, with consensus among manufacturers, environmental advocates, recyclers, governments and procurement agencies and purchasers," she explained in an e-mail. "Being a global company, Toshiba believes this classification is relevant and important for us to be competitive in the global market."

More manufacturers to register in S'pore
GEC expects additional manufacturers to begin registering locally very soon, said Sarah O'Brien, outreach and communications director for EPEAT, in an e-mail interview.

Prior to Singapore joining the initiative, manufacturers that sold products in the country "have used EPEAT registration elsewhere as demonstration" of their products' environmental excellence, she noted.

Lenovo, a member of the program since August 2006, told ZDNet Asia in an e-mail that the company is looking to expand its participation to "include Singapore and other countries in the EPEAT registry".

Currently, all of Lenovo's Think-branded PC products--ThinkCentre desktops, ThinkPad notebooks, ThinkVision monitors and ThinkStation workstations--have been rated gold or silver under EPEAT, said a Singapore-based spokesperson. About 90 percent of its Idea notebook range are qualified under the scheme. The Chinese company has over 1,600 products in use today, registered in more than 20 countries.

"EPEAT classifications help us develop, manufacture and market products that are energy-efficient and hence minimize their impact on the environment," the spokesperson said, adding that the company has observed green moving higher on customers' agenda.

Will registering make a difference?
According to a statement from GEC, EPEAT has been included "into hundreds of government, education, health care and enterprise IT contracts worldwide". The U.S. Federal Acquisition Regulations, for instance, stipulate that EPEAT-registered products must make up at least 95 percent of federal agencies' annual requisition requirements where applicable.

The City and Country of San Francisco administration announced in February 2008 that city departments under its purview will be required to purchase computers and monitors that meet the minimum of an EPEAT silver standard, "with a preference for gold".

Closer to home, the Land Transport Authority and "one of the large universities" in Singapore have also adopted EPEAT classification in their procurement process, noted Philip Carter, associate research director at IDC Asia-Pacific.

The inclusion of Singapore in the EPEAT registry, he said, "is a very positive move" as it provides buyers "the opportunity to evaluate, compare and select electronic products based on their environmental attributes".

However, Carter said the Asia-Pacific region's familiarity with the standard needs to be improved. IDC's green poll in August 2009 found that only 43 percent of the 450 executives interviewed in Australia, China and Japan use EPEAT as a criteria in procuring new IT hardware.

He noted that "there is still a fair amount of education and awareness that needs to be raised as to what the standard entails, particularly since it is driven and managed by the GEC--a nonprofit organization in the United States--before it can have a significant impact on PC buying behavior. Organizations also need to understand why they should factor EPEAT into procurement of new equipment.

"Vendors are doing a fair amount in this area, for example, the newly-formed Sustainability Consortium is looking to drive further visibility around EPEAT".

Carter added that green attributes can potentially become a "differentiator" for vendors going forward, as the environmental sustainability topic heats up in the market. Green computing equipment will be of particular interest to "individuals and businesses with a specific focus on reducing the impact of their operations for the environment".

However, despite organizations increasingly mandating the use of EPEAT-certified products, such a rating may not be effective enough to influence the PC purchasing decision of the average user.

Ongoing IDC surveys indicate that the top five factors influencing PC buys are memory capacity, warranty service and customer support, brand or type of processor, battery life, and price, Carter pointed out.

"We haven't included EPEAT as an option yet...we do expect it to rise on the radar, but we don't see it getting into the top five in the short term since the awareness among the majority of organizations and consumers in the Asia-Pacific is not there yet," he said.

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