On Monday, the Green Electronics Council announced that the highly acclaimed EPEAT rating system would be covering computer equipment sold around the world, as reported by CNET. That's a big expansion and an impressive step forward. An EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) rating is mandated as part of RFPs by U.S. government agencies already.

This condition effectively forces electronics manufacturers to provide an eco-rating on their products sold in the U.S. Now consumers around the world will be able to better judge the environmental friendliness and impact of their technology gear as the EPEAT ratings are broken down country by country to match products sold under slightly different names or with slightly different configurations around the globe. That's a great leap forward for the industry and a big help to consumers who want to better understand what sort of toxins they might be bringing into their homes and offices with electronics purchases.

The environmental and social impact of the technology equipment and electronics industry has come under more scrutiny in recent years, and with good reason. Tech gear is among the largest contributor to the global toxic waste problem. An advocacy group, the Silicon Valley Toxic Corporation, estimates that 70 percent of heavy metal waste entering U.S. landfills comes from e-waste. Metals contained in computer gear include lead, cadmium, and mercury. All are considered highly toxic.

The difficulty and costs associated with disposing of technology gear that carries these poisons has led to a rash of e-waste recycling fraud, with companies promising to properly dispose of items such as lead-laden CRT monitors but instead shipping them to China or stealthily dumping them in U.S. landfills.

Enter the EPEAT registry which contains environmental information on thousands of entries, judges products on 23 attributes. Attributes include reduction of lead, cadmium and mercury as well as lowered levels or absence of chromium and certain flame retardants that have been banned in the European Union. Even the amount and type of packaging used for products is included in the ratings.

Based on the EPEAT findings, product compliance is rated as gold, silver or bronze. That said, the ratings only cover monitors and desktop computers right now. Next up are ratings for televisions and printer copiers. Which seems a little odd, as laptops and handsets are by far faster growing in terms of volume shipped and also more likely to be disposed of on a annual basis.

As a group, the Green Electronics Council has been gaining steam. The voluntary group is made up of electronics manufacturers,recyclers, and advocacy groups. Some heavy hitting members include Apple (AAPL) Dell (DELL), Sony (SNE), and HP (HPQ), among others. All told, the participants encompass a significant percentage of all the electronics production worldwide. Government mandates to either reduce or eliminate toxic elements of electronics products, as well as mandates by the U.S. government to purchase the most eco-friendly equipment that's possible, have given considerable heft to EPEAT.

The ratings tool, which is available to all, can also help consumers make smarter decisions on buying eco-friendly electronics for their homes. One gaping void in coverage, however, is handsets. Let's hope that's on tap.


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