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Green Compliance and Customized Systems: The EPEAT Hurdle

Prepare to meet the demand for EPEAT-compliant computing. NASBA and Intel have partnered to ease the compliance process for customized systems, but there is still a need for help from the vendor and reseller communities. By Elaine J. Hom

Prepare to meet the demand for EPEAT-compliant computing. NASBA and Intel have partnered to ease the compliance process with a component and custom system test lab, but there is still a need for assistance from the vendor and reseller communities.

By Elaine J. Hom

Compliance with green standards has become pervasive in every aspect of our lives. Companies are using green to tout their products from coffee cups to beauty products to cars, and computing systems are no exception. The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), developed by the EPA and maintained by the Green Electronic Council, has set the standard for electronic products, and many potential customers are in industries (including government) require EPEAT-compliant systems and computers.

But channel resellers and systems builders have a unique problem here. When creating customized systems, the components may be EPEAT-certified, but that does not mean the system itself is. It's fairly easy to get a manufacturer's system as sold by a multi-national corporation (MNC) registered as EPEAT-compliant, but the moment any add-ons or new components are added, even a keyboard or a mouse, the compliance can negated.

Also frustrating is the recycling aspect. In order to be considered compliant, resellers need to be able to prove that they are properly transporting and disposing of old equipment in an environmentally friendly way. SMB resellers simply do not have the funds to create a dedicated recycling facility. NASBA, the largest community of channel resellers, has introduced its Green IT Resource Center to help resellers navigate this complicated process.

"We have to build green computers," says Pat Taylor, executive director of NASBA. "That's just the way it's going to be from here on out. And we're going to need help to build green computers." Taylor describes the movement as "the green wave," where "you can see it in the distance and it's getting bigger all the time. If you're on top of the wave, it's exhilarating with a spectacular view. If you're under the wave, you're being pounded in the sand."

"Green compliance is not a component world," says Paul Parkinson, green computing proponent and director of product development at In Win, a components provider. Working with Taylor on the green compliance initiative, Parkinson helped develop an EPEAT-certified chassis. This sparked the idea to create a database of tested components that are EPEAT-certified to make it easy for channel resellers and systems builders to put together an EPEAT-certified system. NASBA, working with Intel, set up a lab to test customized systems and components for EPEAT registration purposes. The Intel lab also tests builds that represent gaming enthusiasts, spring peak laptops, and all-in-ones, with a variety of third party hardware. NASBA submits the results of testing the customized systems to the EPA, who has approved the acceptance of NASBA's findings.

Pat Taylor sees the next step as creating a network of channel partners and vendors, working together to increase awareness of the channel's difficult role in green computing. There is no doubt that SMB resellers and systems builders can't afford to hire a dedicated compliance person or consultant to help them through this process.

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"We've learned that it's something we can't do on our own," says Taylor. "We need help from [the channel community and manufacturers]. Intel stepped up, and I'm sure many others will. It's important to remember that it's a team sport." Vendors, manufacturers, and component developers are going to have to change the way that they think about the green IT marketplace.

"We have always pulled our customers and our channel along by making our products work together," says Parkinson. "But we now have to do things that aren't related to the sale of the component. They may be related to the disposal of the component. We have to start to understand that the dynamic of the marketplace has changed and is going to change." SMBs generally can't afford to pay for disposal and recycling fees, especially if their businesses transcend state lines and they have to adhere to multiple recycling laws. But Taylor emphasizes that taking part in this movement will benefit vendors and manufacturers, too.

"The payoff is that compliance is a tie that binds," says Taylor. "I've picked your product as part of my solution stack, and if we get through the certification procedure, it goes without saying that we are better friends now than we were a week ago."

There's no easy solution here. It's going to be a long and difficult process to get everyone on the same page with green computing and the channel community, but it's a necessary process. Compliance is going to become a major part of every industry across the board. EPEAT is registering televisions, printers, servers, and will be affecting the mobile market as well. It's inevitably going to affect every single reseller and system builder.

"Frankly, if you don't [plan on addressing green computing], people are going to be asking why," says Taylor. "You're going to have to address green sooner or later."

Parkinson agrees with Taylor's wave metaphor, but offers up a warning to the channel community and systems builders who are hesitant to join the movement.

"The green wave, as Pat describes it, is being surfed by the MNCs, and we're down at the trough, gasping for air," says Parkinson. "And it's going to crash on us in two years."

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