Moving forward with green product standards

Erica Logan photo

Almost 10 years ago, members of the technology industry joined with colleagues from U.S. EPA, the business and government purchasing community, and environmental non-profits to develop a consistent way to measure sustainability attributes of computers and monitors.  The results of that work were twofold:  the IEEE 1680 standard, which established product criteria, and the related EPEAT program, which created a registry of products measured against the IEEE standard.

The success of this effort has been astounding, as evidenced by the remarkable uptake of the program by manufacturers and the purchasing community alike.  The program proved so successful in fact that, in 2008, EPA provided funding through a cooperative agreement to develop companion standards for imaging equipment (printers) and televisions.  Between 2009 and 2012 hundreds of stakeholders from all interest categories came together to provide input into these standards. 

While developing a standard is never an easy or quick process, the explosion of interest in these standards created challenges for all stakeholders involved and resulted in a long, protracted process rife with problems.  In the end, we developed standards which have already challenged manufacturers to change their manufacturing processes and to further “green” product design.  And while the end result was positive, all involved decided that we must do better next time.

Next time is now.  The original standard for computers and monitors was finalized in 2006, before Apple introduced the iPad making tablets a mainstream product.  To say that innovation has outpaced the content of this standard is an understatement.  Our members have been seeking a revision of this standard since 2009; in addition, many stakeholders are interested in creating comparable sustainability criteria for servers.  Unfortunately, frustration stemming from the development of the most recent standards has caused several stakeholders to advocate leaving IEEE, despite a track record of success in developing multiple product sustainability standards. 

Regardless of venue, we believe all participants are committed to running a better standards process, with strong, unbiased leadership, balanced participation, wide agreement on goals, and clear procedures for participation.  We also believe IEEE is the right organization to continue to develop standards for electronic products.   IEEE enjoys global brand recognition and possesses technical expertise and experience developing credible standards for electronic products, including product environmental standards.  Over the past year, all stakeholders have collectively spent an incredible amount of time and effort to create tools that will streamline and improve the overall process within IEEE.  Moving to another venue, where we will essentially have to start from scratch, will only create confusion and cause additional unnecessary delays. 

We believe that, as diverse stakeholders, we can hold ourselves accountable to a fair and balanced process.  We believe we can work most effectively within IEEE, an organization with a sole focus on electronic product standards, rather than splitting the standards between two different homes and accepting the significant delays that will accompany learning the bureaucracy of a different organization.  Most critically, a new venue will ultimately work no better if we cannot unite as a community of stakeholders and provide our customers with the tools they need to identify greener products.  At the end of the day customers deserve the opportunity to compare the sustainability profiles of products against a valid, credible and verifiable set of metrics. 

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