Eco labels can help you identify greener and more energy efficient devices. They enable you — the consumer — to take sustainability concerns into account when buying new electronics. Mandatory labels also encourage manufacturers to develop better products. But what do the various labels stand for?
ENERGY STAR (USA)
The ENERGY STAR graces products and buildings that meet energy efficiency benchmarks set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The voluntary program is based on the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy Act.
The performance requirements are continuously adapted to improve energy efficiency. Since its introduction in 1992, the ENERGY STAR was widely adopted and has led to progressive reductions in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from residential, commercial, and industrial sources.
EU Energy Label (Europe)
The focus of this label is saving energy. In 2010, the energy consumption label became mandatory for most white goods, light bulbs, and cars sold in the EU. The original directive was established in 1992 and voluntary energy labeling was introduced in 1995. Each product category has a distinct label; at the core is the product’s energy efficiency grade and pictograms that highlight additional information, like noise or load capacity.
Originally, the energy efficiency of devices was rated from A to G, but due to improvements, grades A+, A++, and A+++ were added for some product categories. To receive an A+++ rating, a refrigerator for example has to use less than 22% of the energy a comparable reference product would use per year.
The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, short EPEAT, is a global rating system for greener electronics available in 43 countries. It was developed based on IEEE standards by the Green Electronics Council with a grant from the EPA.
The rating criteria generally cover 10 categories, including energy conservation, product longevity / life extension, and reduction / elimination of environmentally sensitive materials. The aim is to evaluate products based on their entire lifecycle. Depending on the number of criteria met, a product can earn a Gold , Silver, or Bronze rating, allowing purchasers to compare products and identify environmentally preferable choices.
The label is aimed at purchasers of organizations and governments, but can equally be used by individual consumers. On the EPEAT website, you can search the EPEAT registry by device categories, country, product type, and manufacturer.
EU Eco Label (Europe)
The European Community introduced this voluntary label in 1992. The EU Eco Label helps consumers identify products and services that have a reduced environmental impact throughout their life cycle. To create trust and fair standards, the criteria for each product category are being developed and approved by scientists, NGOs, and stakeholder groups. The final approval is made by the European Commission.
The label covers a wide range of products, not only personal and portable computers, televisions, light bulbs, and heat pumps, but also paper products and detergents. A full list of criteria for each product group is available via EUR-Lex, the database for European law (e.g. portable computers). Additionally, the working groups have produced consumer-friendly summaries , e.g. the fact sheet for portable computers.
To date, more than 17,000 products carry the label. Unfortunately, not all of them are listed in the Ecolabel Catalogue.
TCO Certified (Global)
TCO Certified is an international sustainability certification for IT products. It was founded in 1992 by TCO Development, a Swedish company driven by the mission “to ensure that environmental, social and economic considerations are included in the manufacture, use and recycling of IT products“. For their 20 year anniversary, they launched the TCO Certified story.
Similar to EPEAT, the criteria for this label address the lifecycle of the product. Beyond that, TCO Certified criteria also incorporate socially responsible manufacturing, ergonomics, work environment, health, and safety.
You can search the TCO Development product database for devices.
How Do You Choose Green Products?
Many more labels guide consumers in different countries. For a more comprehensive overview, which also includes the German Blue Angel, the Nordic Ecolabel, or the North American EcoLogo, visit the Ecolabel Index.
While buying green electronics is a step in the right direction, an eco label alone won’t make a product sustainable. You can further reduce the environmental impact of your electronic devices — and reduce your utility bill — by using them right. The best way to avoid carbon emissions of course is to not buy new stuff in the first place.
Which eco labels or criteria guide you when you buy electronics?