Computers — ubiquitous, pervasive and constantly changing — are the poster-child for environmental concern. Computers and other office equipment contain toxic materials and hazardous constituents; they are heavy users of energy and paper, and are often hard to recycle. Nearly everyone has seen or heard a horror story about the improper handling of electronics at the end of their useful life.

Therefore, computers and office equipment are an important target for public sector sustainability programs. States and local governments are well positioned to mitigate the environmental impact of these products by "greening" their purchasing, use, and end-of-life management systems.

As more and more public entities work to improve the environmental footprint of their operations and implement sustainability and greenhouse gas reduction plans, procurement managers need to find ways they can contribute. The State Electronics Challenge (SEC) offers a simple, straightforward approach to help government purchasing managers green the lifecycle of their office equipment.

States and local governments spend more than $35 billion annually on technology. The SEC harnesses the purchasing power and resources of the public sector to change the way office equipment is designed, used and disposed of. The SEC provides tools and resources to help participating organizations, known as partners, buy green office equipment, use it efficiently, and recycle it responsibly.

To buy green, participating organizations — partners — commit to purchasing EPEAT-qualified office equipment. EPEAT [Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool] is a green certification program for office equipment. To foster energy and paper use efficiency, partners establish energy and paper conservation policies. To recycle responsibly, partners use recycling companies certified by the R2, R2/RIOS, or e-Steward programs. Partners can choose to focus on one, two or all three of these lifecycle phases. The SEC provides free technical assistance to help managers through the process.

Many State Electronics Challenge partners are already on their way to greener office equipment when they jump on board. For those organizations, joining the SEC can boost sustainability programs. SEC tools and resources enable government purchasers to flesh out their green electronics programs and to identify the growth opportunities with the biggest environmental bang for the limited government buck.

Working with the SEC can help government purchasers figure out what they are not doing that they could do, and determine the impact of those actions. For example, the SEC program information helped DuPage County, Ill., recognize that standardizing duplex printing would improve environmental performance and reduce costs. SEC data and information was used to build support within the county government for a policy that now requires exclusive purchasing of printers, copiers and imaging devices with duplex capabilities and ensures the settings default to double-sided printing (unless deselected by the user).

Working with the SEC can also help programs become more accountable. It can be a focal point to bring together the players involved in the office equipment lifecycle and give structure to their collaborative efforts. The program's reporting forms help partners document efforts and track results.

Agency reports are used by SEC to generate an annual Sustainability Report for each partner. The report documents the environmental benefits of partner programs using key sustainability indicators such as reductions in energy use and greenhouse gas generation, as well as avoidance of toxic materials and waste. These sustainability reports provide legitimacy to partners' activities and external validation of results. Many partners use these reports to document their contribution to greenhouse gas reduction plans, sustainability plans or other environmental goals.

The SEC also provides recognition for outstanding efforts; partners that address one lifecycle phase are eligible for a bronze award, two phases for silver and all three phases for gold. Award recognition can energize programs and help to drive policy improvement and program expansion.

An introductory webinar provides information about how an entity can benefit from SEC partnership. Visit www.stateelectronicschallenge.net, or email info@stateelectronicschallenge.net to register.