Green Grading

Getting people interested in environmental issues is tough enough but, once interested, they are faced with a blizzard of conflicting advice.

Part of the problem has been that no single organisation has been able to draw all the threads together and provide a simple labelling scheme, like that on European white goods such as washing machines and refrigerators.

We have country/continental divisions and we have an infinity of IT devices and manufacturers. Many of them are trying to ’do their bit’ and, in the absence of commonly agreed standards, are going it alone.

On the one hand this is good, because it demonstrates commitment. But on the other it’s bad because it’s difficult to compare one scheme with another without doing a lot of homework. In theory, I suppose someone might invent a comparison web site for green products, but I’d actually be quite surprised if it were to happen.

The best bet for the industry is for everyone to pull together under the aegis of an independent body.

What sparked this line of thought off was a message from Fujitsu Siemens to the effect that it has decided to announce its own green labelling scheme. It’s sent me a nice spreadsheet to show all the details and, they look pretty good to an untrained eye. Apart from the bit that talks about ’largely biodegradable’. I worry about the bit that’s left after the rest has biodegraded. But this isn’t really the place to go into detail.

The announcement has a curious statement in it which is worthy of reproduction:

"We reviewed and rated all existing eco-labeling systems but found that they were not far-reaching or stringent enough for our needs. Therefore, we concluded that the best way forward would be for Fujitsu Siemens Computers to create and implement our own Green IT labeling system. We are also publishing the qualification criteria, and industry partners are welcome to join our program. However, so far, we have not found a suitable partner whose criteria were as far-reaching as we were hoping for, and who could create the label in the timeframe we had set ourselves. Nonetheless, we would not hesitate in adopting a suitable industry-standard labeling system, should one be introduced in the future"

I tried calling this morning to seek clarification, but I guess they were all busy at the VISIT customer event in Germany today. The key points are clear enough though: it doesn’t like existing standards, it couldn’t get anyone to team up with it and it would be willing to support an industry standard.

The announcement also started off with "Green IT label is industry first". I suspect some other companies might challenge that. Hewlett Packard, for example, started a green labelling scheme in May of this year, called Eco Highlights. The two schemes differ, but the intention in each case is the same: to make clear the environmental credentials of the product so labelled.

Anyway, back to the Fujitsu Siemens statement. I am not surprised that other manufacturers didn’t want to join the scheme, and I doubt that lack of time had much to do with it. And when it comes to none of the standards being good enough, this suggests that the company rejected the ECMA-370 IT Eco Declaration and EPEAT, which is based on IEEE 1680-2006.

Here’s the ECMA description: "This Standard specifies environmental attributes and measurement methods for ICT and CE products according to known regulations, standards, guidelines and currently accepted practices." It gets manufacturers to complete appraisals for every product and for the company itself. Perhaps members should be pushing it to convert assessments into a grading system.

And this is the EPEAT description: "The EPEAT Registry on this web site includes products that have been declared by their manufacturers to be in conformance with the environmental performance standard for electronic products – IEEE 1680- 2006" This ranks products into Bronze, Silver and Gold categories.

While I applaud Fujitsu Siemens’ dedication to sustainability, I fear that if all companies were to create their own grading schemes, we’d end up more confused than ever.

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