Deciding to build a green, energy-efficient IT infrastructure is easier than choosing which servers, data storage and virtualization products will actually use less heat, cut your energy bill and reduce your enterprise’s carbon footprint. There is no shortage of green, energy-efficient IT certifications and standards that rate products for heat production and energy consumption.
But which green IT certifications and standards should your enterprise use to qualify your IT infrastructure, including servers, storage and software, for purchase? Editor M. David Stone decodes the five most commonly referenced energy efficiency certifications—the EPA’s Energy Star, EPEAT, RoHS, Blue Angel and EcoLogo.
The first thing a business discovers when it decides to pursue green IT and build an energy-efficient IT infrastructure is that making the decision is easier than figuring out which servers, storage and virtualisation products will actually use less heat, cut a company’s energy bill and reduce its carbon footprint.
The good news is that you don’t have to scour the details of each product. There are any number of green IT and energy-efficient certification programs that will do that for you. The bad news is that there are so many green IT and energy-efficient certifications that it’s hard to keep track of them all.
Here are the five most common, with a look at what each means and where it applies in your IT infrastructure and energy-efficient, green IT infrastructure plans.
Probably the most familiar environmental certification, Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy. Monitors, printers, scanners, AIOs (all-in-ones), desktop computers and notebooks are all candidates for the rating. To qualify, the product has to meet specific energy efficiency standards, including consuming less than a defined maximum amount of power during use and automatically entering a low-power mode when not in use. The goal is to save energy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
A Word on Energy Star
For any given type of product, the Energy Star label promises energy use below some maximum level, but for some kinds of equipment, the maximum varies more than you might expect, because it depends on the specific product’s features. The maximum allowed for a laser-based AIO with fax, for example, is more than for a single-function printer that uses the same laser engine. Similarly, higher-lasers have higher maximums than lower-speed lasers.
What the Energy Star logo is telling you, in short, is that the energy use is within a defined limit for closely comparable models. A model with fewer features may actually use less energy but not qualify under the program because the rating requires a lower maximum for that constellation of features. So start by defining the features you need, and then look for an Energy Star model with those features.
EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool), applies to desktop computers, notebooks and monitors, and is designed to help buyers “evaluate, compare and select… [products]… based on their environmental attributes.” EPEAT compliance is based on an IEEE standard, IEEE 1680-2006. It defines 51 criteria in eight different areas, including reduction of environmentally sensitive materials, with RoHS compliance as one of the required items in that area, and energy conservation, with Energy Star compliance as a required item.
Areas Included in EPEAT
EPEAT is notable for covering an unusually wide range of issues. Just to give a sense of that range, here’s a list of the six areas beyond the two already mentioned, with an example of each: materials selection (requires a declaration of post-consumer recycled plastic); design for end of life (requires a minimum of 65 percent of reusable and recyclable materials); product longevity and life extension (requires upgradability with “common tools”); end of life management (requires a product take-back service), corporate performance (requires an environmental management system for design and manufacturing organisations); and packaging (requires separable packing materials).
If nothing else, this list of areas EPEAT covers should at least give a sense of its comprehensiveness.
One other key bit of information about EPEAT is that there are three levels of EPEAT ratings. EPEAT Bronze means the product meets all 23 of the required criteria. Silver means it meets all 23 plus at least 50 percent of the optional criteria, for a minimum total of 37 out of 51. Gold means it meets all required criteria plus at least 75 percent of the optional criteria, or at least 44 of 51.
Variously pronounced row-hoss, R-O-H-S, ross, rowsse, rosh, or rose, RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) is the EU’s directive for the restriction of the use of hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment. Basically, an RoHS-compliant product meets the EU’s limits on levels of lead, cadmium, mercury and other substances that you don’t want dumped into the environment.
It’s important to know that being RoHS-compliant doesn’t necessarily mean that a given product has none of the hazardous substances covered by the directive. In addition to exemptions for specific uses that don’t currently have any alternatives, there are also permissible maximums “which allow for any trace presence.” Before you send a product off to a landfill at the end of its useful life, make sure it really doesn’t have any hazardous substances, RoHS-compliant or not.
The Blue Angel eco-label, a German certification, has a 30-year history, with the certification being awarded to products ranging from abrasives to wall paint. Monitors, printers, desktop computers, notebooks and even paper for printing can all qualify. The requirements for Blue Angel depend on the category. For monitors, for example, the Basic Award criteria include ergonomic design, good recyclability and a lack of pollutants in the plastic casing. For printers, the criteria include low energy consumption, low noise levels and the ability to use recycled paper.
Similar in general description to Blue Angel, the Canadian EcoLogo certification can apply to a wide variety of products, with different criteria for each kind of product. Computer-related categories include computer keyboard, computer mouse (currently there are no qualified products in either category), desktop laser printers, remanufactured cartridges and printing paper. As with Blue Angel, the requirements vary with each category. For printers, for example, the issues include energy efficiency, ozone and dust emission, and whether the printer is compatible with recycled paper and remanufactured cartridges.
There are a slew of other national eco-labels, including (but not limited to) Dutch, Austrian, French, Czech, Hungarian and Polish versions, as well as the Nordic Swan in Finland, Sweden and Denmark. There’s even an EU version called the Eco-label, also known as The Flower Eco-label, because of a logo that’s designed to look like a flower.
Keeping track of all the different eco-labels is impractical, but the good news is that the various organisations behind these labels are working to develop a common approach. Stay tuned on that one.
If you’re serious about buying green products, consider starting your buying search by picking the certifications you want the products to meet, and then confining your search to products with those certifications.
Most of the Web sites mentioned here include lists of products that meet the standard the Web site deals with. To see a list of desktop systems with EPEAT Gold certification, for example, you can go to the home page of the EPEAT Web site, scroll down to the EPEAT Registered Products Search Tool, which is in the form of a table, and click on the intersection of Desktops and Gold. You can then click on each individual item in that list to get more information on it. With a little luck, one or more of those products should meet your needs.