A Global Commitment

The Green Electronics Council appreciates the health care community’s dedication to sustainability and values the partnership on green electronics initiatives.

By Melanie Bracey Moul on July 28, 2016

Back in 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, along with electronics manufacturers, sought a definition of “green electronics” so manufacturers could begin producing and selling electronics that didn’t have such devastating effects on the environment. The EPA offered a grant to help develop the green standards, and a combination team of government representatives, environmental advocates, manufacturers, purchasers and nonprofit organizations joined forces to define the initial standards for greener computers and computer displays.

After four years of development, the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers released the standards in 2006; initially, four manufacturers registered their products according to the new standards, and by the end of the first year of the published standards, 650 products were registered. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, has been raising the bar for sustainable electronics ever since.

“You’re pretty hard-pressed to say nobody wants to buy a sustainable electronic. We all get that, and we all want to live in a better environment and save it for future generations,” said Jonas Allen, director of communications for the Green Electronics Council, the organization that was selected by the EPA in 2005 to implement and manage EPEAT.

EPEAT considers the entire life cycle of a product: design, production and the materials used at the development phase; energy consumption during the use phase (for imaging equipment, air quality is also considered); and packaging, recyclability and ease of disposal at the end phase.

With the fast evolution of technology, it’s no wonder that the EPEAT system and the GEC have also needed to adapt and develop at a similar pace. Over the course of the past 10 years, 60 manufacturers in 43 countries have registered 4,300 unique products. In 2013, EPEAT released new product categories: televisions and imaging equipment, which includes printers, scanners and all-in-one devices. Today, standards are being developed for servers, mobile phones and photovoltaic modules.

The Path to EPEAT Certification

Each product category has its own set of standards with more than four dozen criteria that a product needs to meet in order to be considered EPEAT-certified. Criteria are separated into required and optional. There are three levels of EPEAT certification: bronze, silver and gold. To achieve the bronze certification, the required standards must be met. For silver, products must meet the required criteria and 50 percent of the optional criteria. To achieve gold, a product must meet all the required and 75 percent of the optional criteria.

Some purchasers automatically go for all gold-rated products, which is admirable, said Allen, but it’s important to remember that, “even EPEAT bronze-rated products are really good.”

The specifics of the qualifications vary based on product, but holistically they all consider the entire life cycle of the product.

EPEAT in Health Care

Health care systems are no strangers to technology, and greener electronics are the smart choice in regard to patient care and overall sustainability. Since 2009, Practice Greenhealth member Kaiser Permanente has specified that its electronics be EPEAT-registered. That designation has saved the health care system $7.9 million in energy costs based on the products’ life cycle, said Allen.

Additionally, the Healthier Hospitals Smarter Purchasing challenge establishes the goal of 80 percent EPEAT-registered products. Organizations that specify EPEAT-registered products in their purchasing agreements have free access to the tool, and GEC helps calculate the cost savings after the first year of using EPEAT.

“One of the challenges sustainability professionals have is how to make the case beyond the warm fuzzies that we’re doing the right thing,” said Allen. “It inevitably comes down to the finances of it all. Because EPEAT requires ENERGY STAR, there are definite cost savings associated with specifying EPEAT-registered products.”

A Healthy Partnership

There are many opportunities for the GEC and health care systems and facilities to partner, not least because of shared goals.

“The Green Electronics Council appreciates the dedication the health care sector has put forth, and we look forward to continuing to keep health care systems and facilities really close in the decades to come,” said Allen. “Getting greener is not only important, but it’s also one of those intrinsic values that more employees and patients are expecting an organization to have.”

Allen suggested one area where the Green Electronics Council and health care facilities can team up is in EPEAT standards development. As more health care facilities share what they are looking for in green electronics, the more those needs and requests can be met. “The more purchaser demand we have for environmentally preferable products, the more environmentally preferable products manufacturers will create,” said Allen. “Our mission really is envisioning a world where only sustainable electronics are designed, manufactured and used. It’s important that we all go that way together and help define where health care systems want it to go.”

In addition to new electronics categories, the GEC looks to tackle larger global sustainability challenges in the near future and is looking for guidance. Among those future initiatives are social challenges in regard to supply chain management and maintaining social sustainability and greener chemical options, which the health care sector is well-versed in.

The bottom line, said Allen, is that the GEC exists to help organizations make the greenest choices for equipment that is used every day, and in the case of health care, all day.

“Sustainability is a big word. Electronics are part of that puzzle, but they’re just one piece. The easier GEC can make it for organizations to identify and specify green electronics, then the more those organizations are freed up to focus on everything else that their sustainability jobs require.”