U.S. Government Steps UP Green Initiatives Complexity in Software Licenses – An update from the Green Electronics Council

By Sarah O’Brien

The recent announcement of an overarching National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship signals an increased commitment on the part of the US Federal Government to “green” purchasing, management and end of life disposition of information and communication technology (ICT) products. Since the government spends an estimated $79 billion on Information Technology (IT) each year, and the Environmental Protection Agency of the U.S. government (EPA) estimates that government agencies dispose of approximately 10,000 computers each week, changes to Federal IT management practices can have a very significant impact.

On July 20, 2011, the Obama administration released its National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship in a joint announcement from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the EPA and the General Services Administration (GSA). The strategy outlines a series of steps to promote more environmentally responsible asset management throughout the asset’s lifecycle.

Key strategies identified in the report include:

  • Encourage consumers to select electronics that are certified to meet stringent lifecycle environmental criteria
  • Support expansion of credible certification programs including EPEAT that address products’ full lifecycle, to new impact categories and new products
  • Support research on improving recovery and reuse of materials reclaimed through recycling
  • Support competitions to reward innovative green design and recycling research
  • Encourage manufacturers to strengthen and expand take back and recycling of their own products using certified recyclers, and increasing use of takeback requirements in Federal contracts
  • Support government-wide initiatives and working with the US Postal Service to make it simpler for agencies to ship products for donation, reuse and recycling
  • Remove all products that are not certified ENERGY STAR or EPEAT from standing Government-wide IT contracts maintained by the General Services Administration (GSA)
  • Establish effective and transparent tracking systems to follow the flow of electronics donated or collected for recycling inside and outside the Federal government
  • Dispose of nonfunctional equipment used by Federal agencies using only certified refurbishers and recyclers, or through manufacturers utilizing those services.
  • Provide additional guidance to recycling companies about maintaining safe and healthy working environments for their workers
  • Establish tracking mechanisms to better understand the flows of used and waste electronics around the world
  • Provide technical assistance and establishing partnerships with developing countries to better track and handle e-waste

As the nation’s largest consumer of electronics, the federal government has set a goal of becoming the nation’s most responsible user of electronics, said Martha Johnson, Administrator of the General Services Administration, which assists agencies with both procurement and disposition of electronics. “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 specificity of the goals in this forward-looking stewardship document is important, but another report highlights the importance of measuring and assessing compliance. That report from the US Government Accountability Office (GAO) reviewed the Federal government’s progress on greening government IT, at the request of several Senate committees.

The analysis of green IT implementation to date found that there were substantial commitments in place. The report highlighted the two Executive Orders (13423 and 13514) that require agencies to adopt an array of best practices – including EPEAT and ENERGY STAR purchasing, using product power management settings, and extending the lifecycle of electronics – to reduce the environmental impact of government computing. They found that many agencies had established management strategies to comply with those Executive Order goals. However, the report also noted that it was difficult to measure the success of those efforts because of a lack of good baseline analysis and a lack of consistent measurement of impacts across agencies and programs.

GAO identified some measures that could improve adoption and measurement of green IT strategies including:

  • Use Total Cost of Ownership analysis in purchasing
  • Add more green IT training for agency staff tasked with implementation
  • Procure IT equipment that meets the most stringent EPEAT standard available, wherever financially practical
  • Consolidate and standardize IT equipment to reduce redundancy and overhead costs
  • Implement print management solutions with centralized policies
  • Consider broad adoption of new technologies like thin client that consume less energy and resources

These recommendations build on the Federal government’s existing commitments to green IT strategies. With the National Strategy for Electronics Stewardship, the green agenda is comprehensive and ambitious. The agenda clearly includes many points of intervention for ITAM professionals, including development of baseline analyses, helping enable and track power and print management solutions, assisting with appropriate redeployment of hardware to extend its useful life, managing refurbishment, donation and responsible recycling at end of life, and much more.

http://www.epa.gov/wastes/conserve/materials/ecycling/taskforce/docs/strategy.pdf

Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, http://www.epa.gov/epp/pubs/products/epeat.htm

Energy Star, http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_index

http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-638

About the Author

Sarah O’Brien is the Outreach & Communications Director for EPEAT.