Joint ECOLOGO/EPEAT Certification for Mobile Phones Announced

I’ve written a fair amount on this blog about the EPEAT product registry, and its usefulness for consumers and procurement officers interested in identifying more sustainably-produced electronics devices. Previously the registry was only available for the PCs and displays (including tablets), imaging equipment (which includes printers, copiers, scanners and multifunction devices) and televisions. There has been talk for many years about the development of criteria to register mobile phones, but the multi-stakeholder process of criteria development is a long and rigorous process which takes time.

Those of us who have been waiting for those mobile phone criteria were delighted to hear the recent news that the Green Electronics Council, the organization that administers the EPEAT product registry and UL Environment, a business division of Underwriters Laboratories, a leading name in product safety, had announced a joint-certification to enable mobile phones that are certified to the ANSI/UL 110 sustainability standard to also be featured on the EPEAT Registry. This joint ECOLOGO/EPEAT certification is now available for mobile phone brands that want to certify their products to the latest UL 110 standard and also make them eligible for procurements and tenders that require EPEAT-registered products.

According to the UL Environment web site, “Products with this mark have achieved certification to lifecycle-based standards specifically tailored for mobile phones and are subject to ongoing verification through the EPEAT system. This unprecedented combination of pre- and post-market auditing ensures the credibility of manufacturers’ sustainability claims. It also allows the thousands of governments, institutions and businesses worldwide with an EPEAT purchasing policy to quantify how mobile phones contribute to their sustainable-procurement goals.”

While you cannot yet search the EPEAT registry for phones, according to the Green Electronics Council, “Several of the world’s most popular mobile-phone brands have already begun the pre-assessment process for UL ECOLOGO/EPEAT Joint Certification, while wireless carriers worldwide have expressed interest in working with vendors to require phones that carry the UL ECOLOGO/EPEAT joint certification mark.” I for one look forward to the day in the near future when we can search the EPEAT registry when making decisions about new phone purchases!

For more information see the Green Electronics Council press release, and the UL Environment page on the joint ECOLOGO/EPEAT certification.

ecologo/EPEAT mark

Still Time to Apply for EPEAT Purchaser Awards

The February 15 deadline for applying for an EPEAT purchaser award is fast approaching. The EPEAT product registry is a useful tool to identify more sustainable electronic product options in the categories of PCs and Displays (including tablets), Imaging Equipment (which includes printers, copiers, scanners and multifunction devices) and Televisions.

Originally funded by the US EPA, EPEAT is a searchable database of electronics products in certain categories, which is administered currently by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT criteria are developed collaboratively by a range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, environmental groups, academia, trade associations, government agencies, and recycling entities. The EPEAT product criteria cover much more than just energy efficiency–they include issues of material selection and product design, end-of-life management considerations, and corporate performance, among others. To learn more, read my previous post “How to Use the EPEAT Registry to Purchase Greener Electronics–Archived Webinar.” You may also wish to register for the February 9 webinar, “Using the EPEAT Registry to Purchase Environmentally Preferable Electronics.

All organizations that use EPEAT in their purchasing selections are eligible for the EPEAT purchaser awards. See the award web page for full requirements and submission details. Winners will be announced at a March 13th ceremony, sponsored by ITI, in Arlington, VA.  EPEAT Purchaser Award winners will receive:

  • Public recognition for their dedication to environmentally preferable purchasing and greener electronics
  • A calculation of environmental benefits
  • Case study participation opportunities

Questions about the awards program can be addressed to Andrea Desimone of the Green Electronics Council.

EPEAT logo

 

NASA Invests in Innovative Concepts, Including Electronic-recycling Microbes

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) recently announced that 13 proposals had been selected for funding as part of the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, which “invests in transformative architectures through the development of pioneering technologies.” According to the press release, “NIAC Phase I awards are valued at approximately $100,000 for nine months, to support initial definition and analysis of their concepts. If these basic feasibility studies are successful, awardees can apply for Phase II awards, valued up to $500,000 for two additional years of concept development.” Read the full press release on the NASA web site.

Among the funded proposals is a concept entitled Urban bio-mining meets printable electronics: end-to-end at destination biological recycling and reprinting,” submitted by Lynn Rothschild, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, California. The project description states:

“Space missions rely utterly on metallic components, from the spacecraft to electronics. Yet, metals add mass, and electronics have the additional problem of a limited lifespan. Thus, current mission architectures must compensate for replacement. In space, spent electronics are discarded; on earth, there is some recycling but current processes are toxic and environmentally hazardous. Imagine instead an end-to-end recycling of spent electronics at low mass, low cost, room temperature, and in a non-toxic manner. Here, we propose a solution that will not only enhance mission success by decreasing upmass and providing a fresh supply of electronics, but in addition has immediate applications to a serious environmental issue on the Earth. Spent electronics will be used as feedstock to make fresh electronic components, a process we will accomplish with so-called ‘urban biomining’ using synthetically enhanced microbes to bind metals with elemental specificity. To create new electronics, the microbes will be used as ‘bioink’ to print a new IC chip, using plasma jet electronics printing. The plasma jet electronics printing technology will have the potential to use martian atmospheric gas to print and to tailor the electronic and chemical properties of the materials. Our preliminary results have suggested that this process also serves as a purification step to enhance the proportion of metals in the ‘bioink’. The presence of electric field and plasma can ensure printing in microgravity environment while also providing material morphology and electronic structure tunabiity and thus optimization. Here we propose to increase the TRL level of the concept by engineering microbes to dissolve the siliceous matrix in the IC, extract copper from a mixture of metals, and use the microbes as feedstock to print interconnects using mars gas simulant. To assess the ability of this concept to influence mission architecture, we will do an analysis of the infrastructure required to execute this concept on Mars, and additional opportunities it could offer mission design from the biological and printing technologies. In addition, we will do an analysis of the impact of this technology for terrestrial applications addressing in particular environmental concerns and availability of metals.”

Note that “TRL” refers to “Technology Readiness Level,” a measure of the technological maturity of a concept, indicative of the degree to which it has developed beyond the initial faults and unforeseen problems that inevitably arise when something theoretical is brought into practice. NASA TRL definitions help characterize whether a concept is ready for use in space flight during missions or has been “flight proven” as part of successful missions.

Printable Electronics
Graphic depiction of printable electronics, from concept description on NASA web site.

Though the idea is geared toward making missions to Mars more practical in terms of the weight of materials needed to pack for missions and dealing with the lack of a local repair shop in the event of a device breakdown, the concept–if successful–could have obvious positive impacts on sustainable electronic product design and responsible management of the ever-growing stream of discarded electronics here on Earth. This could end up becoming one more example of how technology developed to enable space exploration could have benefits to humans in their everyday terrestrial lives. NASA has published an annual accounting of such technologies called “Spinoff” since 1976.

For more information on the NIAC program, visit https://www.nasa.gov/directorates/spacetech/niac/index.html. For more information on technological “spinoffs”  from space exploration which improve life on Earth, see the press release for the 2016 edition of Spinoff, and the official NASA Spinoff web site.

Deadline Extended: Apply for the 2016 EPEAT Purchaser Awards by April 27th

EPEAT_logoThe deadline has been extended until April 27th to submit applications for the EPEAT Purchaser Awards. The awards recognize excellence in green procurement of electronics. EPEAT Purchasers will earn a star for each product category for which they have a written policy in place that requires the purchase of EPEAT registered electronics.

The EPEAT Purchaser Awards are open to all organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products and meet the following requirements:

  1. Agree to have your organization as an EPEAT Purchaser. EPEAT Purchasers agree to share their specific EPEAT vendor contract language and to be listed on the EPEAT website. By submitting the EPEAT Purchaser Award Application, you agree to have your organization listed as an EPEAT Purchaser.
  2. Must have an organizational purchasing policy in place for environmentally preferable procurement of electronics (see model policy language)
  3. Must set specifications in contracts with vendors requiring that all electronic products in a specific category (PC/Displays, Imaging Equipment, and Televisions) achieve Bronze registration or higher in the EPEAT system in the country/countries of purchase (see model contract language)
  4. Must report annual purchase volume  of EPEAT registered products

Winners will be honored on Monday, May 23, during a ceremony in Washington DC. The Awards ceremony will be co-located with the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council (SPLC) Summit at the Kellogg Conference Center and will take place immediately following the SPLC Pre-Summit Courses. All EPEAT Purchaser Award winners are invited to attend a brief reception before the ceremony, and then to participate in the ceremony itself.

For more information, and to apply, visit the EPEAT web site.

 

Amnesty International Shines a Spotlight on Cobalt Supply Chains

amnestylogoIn case you missed it, a new report by Amnesty International has been making headlines as it ties child labor and unsafe working conditions to electronics manufacturing supply chains. See for example, “Children as young as seven mining cobalt used in smartphones, Amnesty says” (Annie Kelly for The Guardian, 1/18/16) and “Your Smartphone May Be Linked to Child Labor” (Jan Lee for Triple Pundit, 1/21/16).

According to the report, over half the world’s cobalt comes from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), and 20% of that is from artisanal mines where young children may be involved in unsafe practices exposing them to high levels of cobalt. From the Triple Pundit article linked to above, ‘“As with adult miners,” Amnesty International corroborated, “they were exposed to high levels of cobalt on a consistent basis, but did not even have gloves or face masks to wear.” In most cases, the authors pointed out, the financial gain of their work was nominal: “[The children reported] they worked for up to 12 hours a day in the mines, carrying heavy loads, to earn between one and two dollars a day.”’

Cobalt has a number of industrial applications, including widespread use in lithium ion battery cathodes. These batteries are used in hybrid and electric vehicles, as well as in our ubiquitous portable electronic devices, such as cell phones, laptops, tablets, digital cameras, and handheld games. While cobalt is an essential element in small quantities (it’s a component of vitamin B12), high levels of exposure may have adverse effects on the respiratory system, the cardiovascular system, and cause dermal, hematological, and immunological effects (see http://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/toxprofiles/tp33-c2.pdf).

The full report may be downloaded from the Amnesty International web site in English, Chinese, or French (PDF Format; 88 pages). According to the site: “This report documents the hazardous conditions in which artisanal miners, including thousands of children, mine cobalt in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It goes on to trace how this cobalt is used to power mobile phones, laptop computers, and other portable electronic devices. Using basic hand tools, miners dig out rocks from tunnels deep underground, and accidents are common. Despite the potentially fatal health effects of prolonged exposure to cobalt, adult and child miners work without even the most basic protective equipment. This report is the first comprehensive account of how cobalt enters the supply chain of many of the world’s leading brands.”

You can also check out the Amnesty International video below:

Reminder: Manuscripts for Special Edition of Challenges Due 12/31/15

challenges-logoManuscripts are still being accepted for the special issue of the journal Challenges, entitled “Electronic Waste–Impact, Policy and Green Design.” 

From the issue’s rationale:

“Electronics are at the heart of an economic system that has brought many out of poverty and enhanced quality of life. In Western society in particular, our livelihoods, health, safety, and well being are positively impacted by electronics. However, there is growing evidence that our disposal of electronics is causing irreparable damage to the planet and to human health, as well as fueling social conflict and violence.

While global demand for these modern gadgets is increasing, policy to handle the increased volumes of electronic waste has not kept pace. International policy governing safe transfer, disposal, reclamation, and reuse of electronic waste is nonexistent or woefully lacking. Where laws do exist about exporting and importing hazardous waste, they are routinely circumvented and enforcement is spotty at best. While European Union countries lead the way in responsible recycling of electronic and electrical devices under various EU directives, most industrialized nations do not have such policies. In the U.S., for example, most electronic waste is still discarded in landfills or ground up for scrap.

It is imperative that we consider how green design practices can address the growing electronic waste problem. This special issue is meant to do just that and spur discussions on how electronic products can become greener and more sustainable.”

If you are interested in submitting a paper for this special issue, please send a title and short abstract (about 100 words) to the Challenges Editorial Office at challenges@mdpi.com, indicating the special issue for which it is to be considered. If the proposal is considered appropriate for the issue, you will be asked to submit a full paper. Complete instructions for authors and an online submission form for the completed manuscripts are available on the Challenges web site at http://www.mdpi.com/journal/challenges/special_issues/electronic-waste#info. The deadline for manuscript submissions is December 31, 2015. Questions may be addressed to co-guest editor Joy Scrogum.

NERC Releases Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Specs, Purchasing Guidelines

northeast_recycling_council_nerc_medium logo (2)The Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) recently completed its “Simplifying Environmentally Preferable Purchasing” project, which was funded by the Roy A. Hunt Foundation. As part of the project, NERC developed Model Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) Specifications and Purchasing  Guidelines for paper, toner cartridges, and office supplies. NERC also created fact sheets on each of the EPP Model documents, and presented a webinar on the importance of EPP and the EPP model documents.

Model EPP Specifications and Purchasing Guidelines

Simplifying EPP Webinar, July 24, 2014

NERC has also compiled a list of other EPP specifications available online. Check out complete project information on the Simplifying Environmentally Preferable Purchasing page of the NERC web site.

For more information on environmentally preferable purchasing, see the SEI Resource Compilation, “Sustainable Purchasing & Supply Chains.” If you would like to suggest resources to add to that compilation, please contact Joy Scrogum.

EPEAT Accepting Applications for Purchaser Awards

EPEAT_logoDoes your organization use EPEAT to source environmentally preferable electronics? If so, consider applying for the first annual EPEAT Purchaser Awards, which recognize the efforts of those driving environmental improvements through environmentally preferable electronics purchasing. Applications are being accepted through April 6 for the 2015 EPEAT Purchaser Awards. All organizations that purchase EPEAT-registered products are eligible. Learn more and apply today at http://www.epeat.net/epeat-purchaser-awards/.

For more information on EPEAT, view my previous post, How to Use the EPEAT Registry to Purchase Greener Electronics–Archived Webinar.

Webinar, Nov. 18: Introduction to the State Electronics Challenge

SEC LogoOn November 18, 2014 from 2:00-3:00 PM CST, SEI and the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) are co-sponsoring a webinar, “Introduction to the State Electronics Challenge.”

Join Lynn Rubinstein from the State Electronics Challenge to learn how your organization can reduce its environmental footprint through improved management of electronic office equipment.

The State Electronics Challenge (SEC) is a voluntary national program, free of charge, and open to any state, tribal, regional, or local government agency, as well as any K-12 school or non-profit organization. The SEC promotes environmental stewardship of computers, monitors, and imaging equipment — from purchasing green office equipment through power management, paper use reduction, and responsible end-of-life management — resulting in measurable reductions in energy, greenhouse gases, solid and hazardous waste, and associated costs.

Attend this introductory webinar to learn how your organization can join the Challenge and benefit from the program’s proven free technical assistance, action plan, implementation tools, and environmental benefit calculations.

To register for this webinar, visit https://www4.gotomeeting.com/register/414238999. After registering you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the Webinar.

System Requirements
PC-based attendees
Required: Windows® 8, 7, Vista, XP or 2003 Server

Mac®-based attendees
Required: Mac OS® X 10.6 or newer

Mobile attendees
Required: iPhone®, iPad®, Android™ phone or Android tablet

 

 

5 Source Reduction Tips for Electronics Consumers

In case you missed it, this post, written by Joy Scrogum, was originally published on the Great Lakes Regional Pollution Prevention Roundtable (GLRPPR) blog, as part of a series of posts in honor of Pollution Prevention Week during the third week in September.

Happy P2 Week, from the Sustainable Electronics Initiative (SEI), GLRPPR’s partner in creating a sustainable future! P2, or pollution prevention, is defined by the U.S. EPA as “reducing or eliminating waste at the source by modifying production processes, promoting the use of non-toxic or less-toxic substances, implementing conservation techniques, and re-using materials rather than putting them into the waste stream.” Source reduction is a key element in P2.

So let’s talk about source reduction as it relates to electronics, and more specifically, electronics consumers. Not everyone reading this post is an electronics manufacturer, electrical engineer, computer scientist, electronics recycler, or someone else who might be involved the design, production, or end-of-life management of electronic devices. But you are all certainly electronics consumers, scanning these words on the screen of your smartphone, desktop, laptop, tablet, or other device. Given that, the following are five ways we can all practice source reduction in one way or another as we choose and use the gadgets that support our work and play.

1. Buy EPEAT registered products. Originally funded by the US EPA, Electronic Products Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, is a searchable database of electronics products in certain categories, which is administered currently by the Green Electronics Council. EPEAT criteria are developed collaboratively by a range of stakeholders, including manufacturers, environmental groups, academia, trade associations, government agencies, and recycling entities. Criteria for current product categories are based upon the IEEE 1680 family of Environmental Assessment Standards (IEEE is the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, also known primarily by its acronym). The criteria include attributes from throughout the product life cycle–i.e. throughout the stages of design, manufacture, use, and disposal, including such relevant issues as reduction/elimination of environmentally sensitive materials, and product longevity/life extension. The EPEAT registry currently includes desktops, laptops/notebooks, workstations, thin clients, displays (computer monitors), televisions, printers, copiers, scanners, multifunction devices, fax machines, digital duplicators and mailing machines. New products may be added to the registry in the future as criteria are developed for them.

2. Buy refurbished devices. Maybe you’re concerned about the environmental and social impacts of manufacturing electronics, such as mining, use of potentially hazardous materials, labor issues, energy use (did you know that most of the energy consumption in the life cycle of a computer is in its manufacture, not its use?). You might also worry about the ever growing mountains of e-waste that society is generating. The surest way to reduce all of those negative impacts is to reduce the number of new devices that are produced to meet our consumer demand. No, I’m not suggesting that we must all turn our backs on technology and join a commune. But if you genuinely need another device, or  a replacement for one that finally gave up the ghost, remember you don’t have to buy something grand spanking new. And that doesn’t mean you have to take your chances shopping for used electronics, which may or may not end up functioning correctly, from some anonymous source on an online marketplace. Refurbished electronics differ from “used” electronics in a key way–they’ve been tested and verified to function properly. Often these are items that have been returned to a manufacturer or retailer because someone had a change of heart, or there was some defect found while the item was under warranty. In that case, the item could be like new, or is easily repaired, but it can’t legally be resold as new. So, once it has been checked for proper functioning and repaired if necessary, the item is designated “refurbished”–and sold at a discount. Refurbished items may also have been used as display units or even sent to an electronics recycler who determined that the device still functioned, or who returned it to full functionality through repair. Finding refurbished items is pretty easy. Ask the clerks at the electronics retail outlet if there are any refurbished items in stock. If you’re shopping online, most big electronics retailer web sites allow you to search for refurbished items in their catalogs, and may even designate them as “certified refurbished” devices, granting their personal assurance that they’ve thoroughly tested those items. And some independent electronics recyclers and asset management firms have their own online stores for selling items they refurbish. If you decide to go that route, start at the US EPA’s list of certified electronics recyclers to find responsible recyclers in your area, and check their web sites. You’ll rest easy knowing you extended the useful life of a device AND saved yourself some money compared to a brand new device.

3. Use multifunction devices. Another great way to reduce the number of devices you or your organization buy, and thus ultimately have to dispose of, is to use devices that can serve more than one purpose. Classic examples are devices that can perform various combinations of the following tasks: printing, copying, scanning, faxing, and emailing. Now  “2-in-1″ computers are also popular–converting between laptop and tablet configurations through detachable keyboards or screen flipping and folding gymnastics. Besides reducing the number of devices being used, there’s also potential space saving, power saving, and cost savings to consider in favor of multifunction devices.

4. Use networking to reduce the number of printers in your home or office. Odds are your office already uses networking to connect multiple devices to one printer, but at home you might still have separate printers for the kids’ bedroom and the office space the adults use downstairs, for example. You can set up networking at home too, and you don’t have to be “technologically inclined” to do it. Check out Microsoft’s guide to setting up a network printer or this guide from About.com that can address non-Windows devices as well. And at work, even if you have to print confidential information, you can still use a network printer and not have your own machine by your desk, by using confidential printing options available on modern printers. See the University of Illinois guide to confidential printing, or this guide from Office to learn how. If these don’t exactly address the make and model of printer you have, search the Internet for “confidential printing” plus the brand of printer you have, and you’ll probably find the help you need.

5. Repair instead of replace. Again, this is not something only the “technologically inclined” can accomplish. We’ve been trained to think of our devices as both literal and figurative “black boxes” which run on magic by the grace of fickle technological gods, never to be understood by mere mortals. Nonsense. Not only can you likely find plenty of computer/technology repair services in your area (which is great for your local economy), you can actually perform repair yourself–I know you can. Check out the iFixit web site for example. They provide an online community for sharing photo-filled, easy to follow repair guides, not just for electronics, but for all sorts of things. Did your smartphone screen crack? Search for it on the iFixit site before you replace it. You might not only find the guide to show you how to fix the problem, but the new screen and the tools you’ll need to do the work as well, which will likely be cheaper than the new device you might buy otherwise. The folks at iFixit also like to assign “repairability scores” to devices, which can help you purchase items that are easier to repair, and thus keep around longer. Of course tinkering with your device might affect the warranty, if one still applies. Be sure you understand the terms of your warranties first. There are some discussions on the iFixit site related to warranties, and you might also be interested in their commentary on some of the controversy surrounding what is known as “the right to repair.”

Do you have other source reduction suggestions related to electronics? Feel free to share them in the comments section.