According to the Consumer Technology Association, consumer electronics will generate $485 billion in revenue in 2023, an 11% increase from pre-pandemic levels. As consumers purchase and discard electronics at unprecedented rates, the electronics industry must prioritize sustainable practices to lengthen product life cycles and lower their environmental impact.
Launched by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2006 and governed by the Global Electronics Council (GEC), the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a Type 1 ecolabel that promotes sustainability in the electronics industry by assessing an individual product’s environmental impact. Manufacturers throughout the global electronics supply chain use the EPEAT ecolabel to rate their electronic devices against established criteria for material selection, energy efficiency and ethical considerations.
The plastics industry is essential to manufacturing consumer electronics and is well-positioned to advance sustainability goals for electronic products. As such, it is important for electronics and electrical manufacturers to understand the EPEAT criteria and their impact on the plastics industry, along with setting goals to make electronics more sustainable across the entire global supply chain.
Before EPEAT launched, manufacturers lacked clear guidelines and metrics to make informed decisions about electronic sustainability. The EPA created the EPEAT ecolabel to offer clear procurement standards and sustainability ratings. The program is now overseen by the GEC, a nonprofit dedicated to creating a more sustainable electronics sector.
EPEAT is used by governments and private companies worldwide to make purchasing decisions. In the U.S., subpart 23.7 of the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) requires at least 95% of electronic products procured by federal agencies to be EPEAT-certified. The legislation signals the importance of EPEAT to the general consumer market. Globally, manufacturers consider EPEAT certification the standard for electronic products.
“Often, when products or materials are labeled ‘eco-friendly,’ we can’t quantify the item’s sustainable characteristics or impact,” Grant Pryde, M. Holland’s Electrical & Electronics Strategic Account Manager, said. “EPEAT places a weight on an electronic product’s sustainability level, which helps manufacturers and consumers adopt greener practices.”
In the nearly two decades since its launch, EPEAT’s impact is undeniable. The electronics industry is one of the eight industries contributing to over 50% of global emissions, with the electronics supply chain accounting for 77% of emissions created by electronic products. While the impact of EPEAT is not directly quantifiable, it’s estimated that electronics emissions can be reduced by over 65% if the IT supply chain adopts more sustainable practices, like tapping into renewable energy and extending product life cycles — all actions promoted by EPEAT. To illustrate its potential results, the GEC offers an online calculator to determine the environmental benefits of purchasing EPEAT-certified products, highlighting how it has become an essential tool to creating a greener electronics industry.
The EPEAT ecolabel currently provides sustainability standards for computers, imaging equipment, printers, servers and televisions. The certification evaluates products against benchmarks in four categories: climate, chemicals of concern, sustainable use of resources, and environmental, social and governance (ESG) performance.
EPEAT begins with examining the climate impact of a product, including its energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions. The assessment also considers corporate ESG performance of the manufacturer, including climate and labor ethics, to determine if the company’s practices are considerate of people and the planet.
For the plastics industry, the most important criteria regards the requirements for sustainable use of resources and chemicals of concern. Since electronic products often contain resin, plastics are significant in determining the toxicity and end-of-life plan for these devices. Plastics manufacturers must be aware of their impact on the larger electronic supply chain and ensure the materials used in production meet EPEAT criteria.
The GEC assesses a product and assigns a bronze, silver or gold EPEAT ranking based on the percentage of criteria met. This allows consumers and manufacturers to make informed decisions based on the product’s ranking. It’s important to remember that EPEAT criteria evolve with new findings and sustainability needs. Manufacturers looking to maintain compliance with EPEAT, or boost their products’ rating, should stay up-to-date with the GEC’s announcements.
EPEAT is a voluntary rating system, meaning manufacturers must proactively register their products in order for them to be evaluated and certified. The certification process involves on-site audits, document reviews and product testing. Once certified, the GEC adds the product to a publicly accessible database.
This data is available worldwide, making EPEAT a global standard that promotes transparency and accountability in the electronics market. Environmental groups and trade associations, like the International Imaging Technology Council, often publicize manufacturers who violate EPEAT. By keeping certification criteria transparent and responding to shortcomings, EPEAT maintains integrity and keeps electronics consumers informed.
With over 2.4 billion EPEAT-certified products purchased since its start, the program is a leader in promoting a circular economy in the electronics sector and helps drive sustainability practices throughout the global supply chain.
According to a 2021 study conducted by Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, plastics account for around 20% of worldwide electrical waste. Plastics manufacturers can ensure products are EPEAT-compliant to help divert waste from landfills. For example, manufacturers can swap traditional resins for recycled or bio-based alternatives and incorporate biodegradable plastics into product design.
By helping both manufacturers and consumers make informed choices, EPEAT will continue to drive sustainable initiatives across the electronics supply chain. “There is an environmental responsibility on everyone in the IT supply chain,” Grant said. “Because plastics are such an important part of electronics manufacturing, our industry has a large role to play in creating more sustainable electronics across the product life cycle.”
M. Holland offers material selection assistance to manufacturers pursuing EPEAT certification. Our Sustainability line card features a number of potential solutions for electronics manufacturers, including high-quality engineering materials supplied by Lavergne, a leading producer of high-quality sustainable resins made from post-consumer plastic. Adopting more sustainable plastics will reduce the environmental impact of the IT supply chain and better position plastics manufacturers in a market that prioritizes sustainability. Visit our Electrical & Electronics market page to review our line card and learn more about our services.