Businesses ignore Energy Star in computer procurement

The Energy Star eco-label is being ignored by businesses when they buy computers - in spite of the Government's promotion of the scheme, according to an ENDS survey. Although an increasing array of environmental concerns is being raised during computer procurement, most buyers are only concerned with legal compliance or the manufacturer's environmental management system.

The Energy Star label, adopted by the EU in 2001, is awarded to products including computers, monitors and printers, based on their energy consumption.

Computer monitors, for example, must consume 4W or less in sleep mode and 2W or less in "off" mode to qualify. These standards are being tightened to 2W and 1W, respectively, in January 2006.

The eco-label has been heavily criticised in the past for being too easy to obtain - over 50% of monitors sampled met the 2005 requirement in 2003 (ENDS Report 346, p 35 ). In spite of this, the Government endorses the eco-label, including it among its "quick wins" designed to encourage green procurement.

Such enthusiasm is not, however, shared by corporate buyers of computer equipment in the UK.

Around 5.1 million PCs were bought by businesses in the UK last year, according to market intelligence firm IDC. But an ENDS survey of computer manufacturers shows that few were bought with the Energy Star in mind (see table).

"The whole issue is a lot wider than just, 'Do you have the Energy Star?'" says Joy Boyce, environment manager at Fujitsu. "That was five years ago."

Jean Cox-Kearns, senior take-back and recycling manager for Dell agrees. "There are some requests about the Energy Star, but not a lot," she says. "People want to know more about other aspects of energy efficiency - like what power save features we have on our products."

Of the four companies surveyed, three of them - Dell, HP and IBM - monitor the requests for environmental information they receive. Of these, only Dell says its clients stress energy efficiency in their tender documents.

Instead, the issues of most concern for British businesses appear to be manufacturers' environmental management systems, their compliance with European Directives such as that for waste electronic and electrical equipment, and, at a push, their take-back policies.

"UK companies tend to ask more management-related questions," says Stephen Bushnell, environmental affairs manager at IBM. "If you're operating to a recognised environmental standard like ISO14001, it would appear that provides the reassurance they need."

"A lot of the questions are quite standard, simply about making sure we're compliant with legislation," adds Ms Cox-Kearns. "But even that does depend on what the companies are aware of. We did some research recently into how much our customers were aware of the WEEE Directive, and most UK customers didn't know about it."

The only firm that reports a different picture is Fujitsu. According to Ms Boyce, "every day" she receives a tender document that includes questions on everything from Fujitsu's environmental performance to its take-back schemes, the chemicals in its computers to their energy efficiency. "I once had a question that said, 'How far will your service engineers have to drive if we have a fault, what kind of cars would they drive and what petrol would they use?'"

According to the other manufacturers surveyed, such all-encompassing requests are only common among financial services and telecommunications firms. "Those sectors are really pushing the agenda forward," says HP's environment manager, Zoe McMahon. "They're always looking for the next issue to make them stand out."

The experiences of businesses themselves tally with this picture. HSBC, for example, which claims to be the world's biggest computer buyer, says it would be impossible to single out one issue of importance.

"We're increasingly looking at the whole life cycle, right from the components to how it's recycled," says Francis Sullivan, HSBC's environment adviser. "When you work in 77 countries, you've got to think beyond eco-labels."

Surprisingly, the European Commission freely admits that the Energy Star has become an "irrelevance". "The problem is that the Star's current requirements are obsolete," said an official. "Nearly all products on the market can meet it, so companies aren't going to buy products using it."

Planned revisions of the criteria for all computer parts in 2006 will change this situation, he says. But only if, as hoped, they restrict qualification to 25% of the market.