The Greening of Government IT

The U.S. government is actively pursuing a major shift in information technology operations that emphasizes the use of cloud technology. While this effort eventually may reduce the amount of “on-site” electronic equipment used by federal agencies, other forces are at work that will keep the government’s demand for electronic devices and components at a high level. Throughout the federal government, agencies are shifting to using more portable devices such as laptops, cellphones, netbooks and tablets.

In addition to meeting functional standards and requirements for such equipment, the U.S. government has added another element to its procurement regimen: All purchases of electronic equipment must meet an expanded set of environmentally acceptable goals.

The Obama administration released its National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship on July 20 in a joint announcement from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the Environmental Protection Agency and the General Services Administration. The program is aimed at the design, purchasing, management and recycling of electronic equipment.

The strategy will ensure that the federal government, as the United States’ largest consumer of electronics, “will become the nation’s most responsible user of electronics,” said Martha Johnson, GSA administrator. The strategy covers both conventional equipment, such as servers, desktops and printers, and more recently developed mobile devices.

A $14 Billion Market

“In our dual role as the government’s premier procurement agency and property disposal expert, GSA will lead the government by purchasing more strategically and recycling more responsibly,” Johnson said. The U.S. government spends nearly US$14 billion per year for IT equipment.

According to the plan, GSA will remove products that do not comply with “comprehensive and robust energy efficiency or environmental performance standards” from the information technology purchase contracts used by federal agencies, and it will ensure that all electronics used by the federal government are reused or recycled properly.

The program is centered around the use of electronic products that are compliant with two existing initiatives: EPEAT, and Energy Star. EPEAT is a definitive global registry for green electronics, which serves as a resource for purchasers, manufacturers, resellers and others wanting to find or promote environmentally preferable products.

Energy Star, launched by the EPA and the U.S. Energy Department in 1992, is a program designed to identify and promote energy-efficient products to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Computers and monitors were the first labeled products.

GSA will implement the stewardship program in several ways, according to a “benchmark” protocol that accompanied release of the national strategy. The agency will work “to the maximum extent practicable” to remove all products from the standing government-wide IT acquisition contracts that are not Energy Star- or EPEAT-compliant, where compliant products are also available

“GSA will implement this policy by requiring compliant products in all new contracts, as well as current contracts as they come up for renewal,” the agency said in a statement provided to CRM Buyer by spokesperson Cara Battaglini.

Purchasing requirements related to Energy Star and EPEAT products are already in place, so a separate rulemaking process will not be necessary, GSA said. Noncompliant products will continue to be available on any contracts that currently offer them and have not come up for renewal.

“Eventually, GSA will exclusively offer compliant products for purchase through our online purchasing site, allowing federal agencies to quickly and easily meet the requirements,” GSA said. The agency does not plan to maintain lists of noncompliant products.

GSA will join the EPEAT standard development process to represent the interests of the Federal government as a consumer. GSA and EPA will establish multi-stakeholder groups — including IT equipment vendors — to address key research questions and design challenges, and accelerate the development of and investments in green electronics design standards. GSA will “more effectively direct federal government spending on electronics toward green products through procurement changes,” according to the benchmark document.

In addition to the equipment procurement program, federal agencies will initiate a robust program to re-use and recycle electronic equipment, including encouragement of U.S. based recycling centers and cooperative efforts with manufacturers on take-back programs.

Vendor Cooperation

The Obama administration took care to launch the initiative jointly with private sector organizations, including scheduling an announcement event at a Texas electronics recycling center. Representatives of Dell, Sony and Sprint participated in the event.

“Dell strongly supports the Energy Star and EPEAT standards and will continue to register products to these standards in support of our customers,” said Mike Watson, director of Dell Take Back Programs.

“Our goal is to deliver the highest quality and energy efficient products with the least impact on the environment,” he told CRM Buyer.

“Our current policy and this commitment with the EPA highlights our goal to handle electronic waste holistically — from product design to disposal — and is another proof point to our broader commitment to sustainability innovation,” said Sprint CEO Dan Hesse.

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