Responsible Purchasing Network

Computers: Overview

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Computers. This Guide provides information and recommendations on responsible use, purchasing, and disposal of computers, monitors, and laptops.

(Presentations from the May 6, 2008 RPN Webinar - Greening Office Equipment can be downloaded at the bottom of this page.)

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality & Supply; Policies; Specifications; Standards; Products; Handy Facts; Definitions; and Credits & Endnotes.

The growing use of environmentally preferable computer products helps to reduce negative human and environmental impacts. Reduction in toxic substances lessens worker safety and ecological impacts. Improved energy efficiency reduces greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change and air pollution; refurbishment and upgrade options can reduce disposal impacts. And as demand for environmentally preferable electronics continues to grow, product selection and features will expand, allowing purchasers to source the full range of needed products while reducing environmental impact.

Social & Environmental Issues

The social & environmental issues section discusses how Institutional buyers spend billions of dollars on electronic equipment each year. With the rapid pace of innovation, the organizational lifespan of a computer is about three years and users often feel it is easier to buy new equipment than to upgrade the products they have (SVTC, 2004). Production and use of an ever increasing number of electronic products is resource-intensive, accounting for significant extraction of natural resources and major energy consumption, as well as billions of gallons of water use. When computers and other electronics are disposed, the resulting waste stream contains toxic materials such as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that almost 50 metric tonnes (55 U.S. tons) of “e-waste” are disposed annually worldwide (BBC, 2006). Unscrupulous recycling companies ship e-waste containing toxic materials to developing countries, where it is often processed by workers with few or no protections or environmental controls.

Best Practices

The best practices section discusses how responsible computer purchasing and management programs should consider manufacturing, use-phase and disposal impacts as well as price and performance. A diverse team of stakeholders, including IT and purchasing staff, waste management personnel, sustainability and environmental staff and end-users, should be involved in  establishing baseline inventory and impact data, exploring product options, and jointly setting environmental, performance, and pricing goals. In addition, this group can develop an electronics purchasing and management policy, review existing specifications, and train users on any needed behavioral changes. This Guide includes a variety of sample policies and specifications for responsible computer procurement.

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Cost, Quality, & Supply

The cost, quality, & supply section discusses how manufacturers have adjusted design and production to ensure that many of their new products conform to or exceed EPEAT and ENERGY STAR requirements. The costs of EPEAT registered and ENERGY STAR-compliant products are competitive with unregistered products. As of November 2009, over 1,325 computer products were registered at EPEAT Bronze, Silver, and Gold levels. More than $50 billion in federal agency contracts have already referenced EPEAT, and more than 500,000 EPEAT registered computer products were purchased by 13 federal agencies that met their requirement for 95% or more of purchases to be EPEAT products in 2008. Most registered products meet the Gold or Silver requirements.


The policies section provides examples of purchasing policy passed by educational institutions, cities, state, counties, and an increasing number of other institutions for computers and monitors. These policies typically address energy use, recycled content, end-of-life management, and reduction of hazardous contents.


The specifications section provides sample bid and contract specs used for responsible procurement of computers and monitors. The most important reference in computer specs is the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT).


The standards section discusses how the major barrier to specifying environmentally preferable computers has been the difficulty of assessing complex data on multiple dimensions of product content and performance. The development of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) has changed that—making it easy for purchasers to evaluate, compare, and select desktop computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes. EPEAT addresses the reduction and elimination of environmentally sensitive materials, materials selection, design for end-of-life, product longevity and life cycle extension, energy conservation, end-of-life management, corporate performance, and packaging. The certification includes three increasingly stringent tiers of environmental performance: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. The ENERGY STAR standard for energy efficient computers, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Department of Energy (DOE), is a required criterion in the EPEAT computer standard.


The products section contains a searchable database of EPEAT registered computers, laptops, and monitors.

Handy Facts

The handy facts section provides a referenced set of facts and findings pertaining to computers.


The definitions section provides a glossary of terms used throughout the Guide.

Credits & Endnotes

The credits & endnotes section lists the people responsible for writing, reviewing, and editing this Guide along with a listing of sources referenced.

Webinar Presentations

Chris O'Brien, RPN - Greening Office Equipment

Sarah O'Brien, Green Electronics Council - EPEAT Computers

Linden Skjeie, City of San Jose - San Jose Case Study

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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