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MARK AUSTIN THOMAS: If you're thinking about buying a computer, here's a word for you: Green. Green as in the environment. A new program is being launched today that rates things like computers, laptops and monitors based on how environmentally-friendly they are. From the Sustainability Desk, Alex Cohen says one company is pretty prominent on that list.
ALEX COHEN: The program's called EPEAT: That stands for the much-clunkier name Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. Nearly half the computers listed on the EPEAT site are made by Dell.
Here at Dell's manufacturing plant in central Texas, computers are assembled, packed up in cardboard boxes then sealed for delivery.
Computers can contain hazardous materials and many of them wind up in landfills. Environmental engineer Mark Schaffer says Dell takes pains to make computers that are more energy efficient and easier to dispose of when users are done.
MARK SCHAFFER: Our choice of the number of plastics that we use, we minimize the different types so that aids in recycling, we avoid the use of certain flame retardants, we also avoid the use of PVC in large components.
Schaffer says all Dell computers listed on the new EPEAT site have earned a silver rating. That means they comply with 23 required criteria needed for a bronze rating, plus at least half of an additional 28 criteria.
Jeff Omelchuck is the director of the Green Electronics Council which helped develop the EPEAT system.
JEFF OMELCHUCK: EPEAT covers energy consumption of the product, recyclability of a product, the use of recycled content in the product, the product packaging and some elements of the performance of the manufacturer company. You know, how green is the company itself?
EPEAT is funded by fees paid by manufacturers like Dell and Hewlett Packard.
Though the Web site can be viewed by anyone, EPEAT was specifically developed for use by state and federal agencies such as NASA, the Department of Education and Homeland Security.
OMELCHUCK: A lot of federal legislation requires agencies of the federal government to purchase green products when and where practical.
Omelchuck says those state and federal contracts add up to big bucks $32 billion are slated to be spent on EPEAT rated products. And that, he adds, may well inspire manufacturers to produce more green computers.
Garth Hickle is with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. He says tools like EPEAT can help save his state money.
GARTH HICKLE: It is a really flexible tool that's going to allow the agencies to be able to significantly reduce the costs of developing standards on our own and really remove the complications of doing that specific product evaluation.
According to the EPA, purchase of EPEAT-registered products over the next five years is expected to save nearly 600,000 megawatts of electricity and more than 13 million pounds of hazardous waste.
I'm Alex Cohen for Marketplace.