Greening of Whitehall's IT purchasing guidelines

Government Departments have been urged to buy energy- efficient personal computers as a means of meeting their targets to reduce energy use by 20% over the current decade. New procurement guidelines have also advised them to purchase information technology equipment only from firms operating take-back schemes, and to consider renting products to encourage producer responsibility.

The Government has been promising to inject environmental considerations into its procurement practices for several years, but the third report of the Panel on Sustainable Development, published in January, found that its achievements were "disappointing" (ENDS Report 264, pp 7-8 ).

In July, the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions (DETR) published an updated version of its green procurement guide for suppliers,1 along with new guidance for all Departments on choosing environmentally preferable IT equipment.2In the UK, office equipment typically accounts for 20% of total office energy use. According to Environment Minister Angela Eagle, "the huge growth in IT has had a significant effect on electricity consumption on the Government Estate" - indeed, several Departments cited it as one reason why they failed to meet a target to cut their energy consumption by 15% in the five years to 1995/6 (ENDS Report 264, p 27 ). The latest target is a 20% reduction between 1991 and 2000.

Purchasing energy-efficient PCs could help Departments meet the target, according to the guidelines. Departmental purchasing officers are advised to "ensure that environmental and energy requirements are included from the outset in the specifications for contracts."

Among the specific recommendations are:

  • Require suppliers to provide details of average and standby power demands, as well as nameplate ratings, in order to assess the true energy consumption.

  • Aim to buy products which are in the upper 25% of energy efficiency for the range, or products that are at least 10% more energy efficient than the ones they are replacing.

  • "At least insist" that all PCs, printers and monitors meet the energy efficiency requirements of the US Environmental Protection Agency's voluntary Energy Star labelling scheme (ENDS Report 221, pp 25-26 ).

  • Set a target to maximise the number of IT products made from recovered materials relative to non-recycled alternatives and, if necessary, revise any standards unrelated to performance which act as barriers to the purchase of equipment made from remanufactured parts and recycled materials.

  • Specify that the supplier should operate a take-back scheme. The guidelines give examples of companies which already do so, such as Motorola, ICL, Rank Xerox and Racal Datacoms.

  • Rental agreements should be considered as an alternative to buying, with the supplier taking back the equipment when it is no longer needed. Leasing is seen as the ultimate extension of producer responsibility because the producer never relinquishes ownership. However, the guidelines advise purchasers to ensure that the supplier strips the equipment of components and materials for reuse and recycling, and the equipment meets the same energy efficiency standards as purchased models.

    The guidance includes environmental specifications for PCs, photocopiers and laser printers.

    The new green procurement guide for suppliers to the DETR is an updated version of a guide published in 1993 (ENDS Report 228, p 29 ). Among the changes are:

  • Appliances such as refrigerators should have one of the top two of seven ratings under the EC's energy labelling scheme.

  • Although the DETR is committed to buying products bearing the EC eco-label where they provide value for money, there is no mention of the Forest Stewardship Council's label for wood products. Documentation may be requested proving the wood was grown in "well managed", rather than "sustainably managed", forests.

  • The minimum post-consumer waste content of paper and board products should be 40%, up from the previous 10%. Suppliers are asked to draw the DETR's attention to recycled papers containing pulp made from agricultural products such as straw, flax and hemp.

  • If hydrofluorocarbons are used as an alternative to ozone-depleting substances in applications such as refrigeration and air conditioning, suppliers should be signatories of the voluntary agreements on minimising HFC emissions which have been concluded between the Government and several trade associations (ENDS Report 252, pp 31-32 ).

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