IT and Business Insights for SMB Solution Providers

'Green' Certifications Gaining Importance

Without ENERGY STAR and EPEAT certifications, and strategies for deploying compliant products and green IT practices, you limit your ability to compete. By Alan Radding

By Alan Radding

Don’t get caught in the “green gap,” which is “when system providers and VARs recognize the green buzzwords but don’t translate them into their business pitch,” says Greg Schulz, author of The Green and Virtual Data Center (CRC Press, 2009) and senior analyst at The Server and StorageIO Group.

The lack of ENERGY STAR and EPEAT certifications can prove deadly to a system provider. “Without those, you can’t really compete today,” says Paul Kim, vice president at GammaTech Computer Corp., a ruggedized notebook maker in Fremont, Calif.

Green computing is the ongoing IT industry push to improve energy efficiency in the data center. It focuses mainly on the drive by technology product vendors to boost energy efficiency with each new release of their products and by channel partners to understand these products and how best to deploy them for maximum energy savings.

The Gold Standards

The place to start is with ENERGY STAR and EPEAT certifications. EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) is the primary global registry for green electronics, covering many products from a wide range of manufacturers. EPEAT combines comprehensive, objective criteria for design, production, energy use, and recycling with ongoing independent verification of manufacturer claims. With more than 3,200 products from 45 manufacturers in 41 countries registered, EPEAT has become the most comprehensive green electronics registry today.

System providers lacking EPEAT-certified products and familiarity with the EPEAT process can write off doing U.S. government business, which requires EPEAT certification. Products registered in EPEAT must meet 23 required environmental performance tests. The products also are rated Gold, Silver, or Bronze based on the percentage of another 28 optional criteria they can meet. The results are registered by country, so system providers and customers can see a vendor’s registration details when buying products. EPEAT operates an ongoing verification program to assure the accuracy of the registry.

ENERGY STAR is a joint certification program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy. It is intended to help buyers save money and protect the environment by identifying energy-efficient products and recognizing best energy practices.

Of the two, EPEAT has become the certification to meet when selling desktops, notebooks, and monitors. Well over half (1,379) of the slightly more than 2,100 products receiving EPEAT ratings are notebooks. Displays come in second, with more than 500 products achieving the rating. If a product achieves an EPEAT rating it generally meets ENERGY STAR requirements too. Servers, storage, and other types of products are still early in the ENERGY STAR and EPEAT process.

Product vendors are quick to boast of their ENERGY STAR and EPEAT certifications. “We are ENERGY STAR 5.0 certified,” says Ali Bagheri, senior vice president at PC maker Cybernet Manufacturing Inc., in Irvine, Calif. But there is more to green computing than just the two ratings. “We also make sure the plastic and metal parts are recyclable,” he adds.

System providers like GammaTech and Cybernet are getting help from their component partners as they strive to deliver energy-efficient products. With each generation of components, chip and disk drive makers are boosting efficiency. Cabinets and packaging also contain increased amounts of recyclable materials, all of which facilitate gaining the appropriate green certifications.

And the ongoing economics of computer systems, still being driven by Moore’s law, continue to help by allowing system providers to deliver certified energy-efficient systems without adding a significant price premium. “The price of electronics is still going down,” Bagheri observes.

Still, there remains a price to green computing. “Yes, there is a premium to being green, and customers balk at paying more,” says Kim. Competition, however, drives most vendors to somehow absorb it. Still, with the government involved, “to some it is just another form of taxation,” he adds.

Just delivering certified products is not enough. System providers need to guide their resellers on the best strategies for deploying the products to get maximum energy savings from the investment and give them sales strategies for doing so. Advises Schulz: “Don’t sell around the lower carbon footprint and green certifications. It still has to be about the customer’s business. So, focus on the green product’s economic sustainability, profit, and productivity, which, by the way, also help the environment.”

By now every system provider that wants to can meet green IT benchmarks. So, what’s your excuse?

ALAN RADDING is a freelance writer based in Newton, Mass.

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