Berlin - There are a variety of labels denoting products that work sparingly with energy or other environmental resources. They run the gamut from organic labels on foodstuffs to the Green Dot used in Germany for packaging. Computers, monitors and printers have also come to feature the symbols as well. Yet few consumers are certain just what the Energy Star, Blauer Engel (Blue Angel) or GEEA labels really mean.
"The differences are big, but consumers have lost the overview," says Philipp Karch from BITKOM, a Berlin-based industry association.
Only one symbol has gained global acceptance: the "Energy Star." Originally created by the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the label with the yellow star once drew a steady stream of criticism because 80 per cent of devices were able to meet the standard, says Kerstin Kallmann from the Berlin energy agency. Things changed in
2007 when the criteria were reviewed and tightened.
"Only 25 per cent of the devices earn the Energy Star now," says Kallmann.
The catalogue of criteria for the label is long and complicated. For example, Energy Star categorizes computers based on their power: PCs with one or more processor cores and 512 megabytes (MB) of RAM may not use more than 50 watts when idling. PCs with two or more processor cores and at least 1 gigabyte of RAM can draw up to
65 watts when idling and still receive the "Energy Star." Laptops are subjected to much stricter rules. They may consume no more than 1.7 watts of power during stand by, for example.
"GEEA is a stricter and better label," Jonas Mey says. He is an energy expert for the League for the Environment and Nature Conservation/Germany (BUND) in Berlin. Larger companies in particular pay attention to the label, which like "Energy Star" is primarily intended to reward energy-saving characteristics in electronics. Recyclability is by contrast one of the major criteria for the Blue Angel, which corresponds to the EU Eco Label, a stylized green flower. The Blue Angel is worth looking for, says Barnara Nusser from the Consumer Initiative in Berlin.
"It places high requirements beyond just energy consumption during the device's service life." The longevity, usability and health aspects like sound pollution, particulates and ergonomics are taken into account, Nusser claims.
Even so, many IT manufacturer's don't bother with the seals at all. "Certifications rob valuable time and money," criticizes BITKOM, the umbrella organization for the ITC sector. And the "Blue Angel" is often viewed as unattractive for globally active producers since it is not recognized on the international level. One seal that is widely distributed internationally is the TCO certification from the Swedish Confederation of Professional Employees. Devices with that label must fulfil criteria based on ergonomics, energy consumption, emissions and ecology. "TCO'03" - the most recent certification - is applied to monitors and measures not just power consumption but also the electromagnetic radiation and safety of the device.
All of these labels are voluntary, and no manufacturer is obligated to pursue then. Energy experts therefore recommend that consumers compile a list of potential devices before making a purchase and then look into the energy saving characteristics of each device on the manufacturer's Web site.
"Another way for consumers to reduce electronic waste is to use devices longer," says Jonas Mey from BUND. "And energy can be saved by turning off the devices whenever they're not being used."
INFO BOX: Windows makes it easy to save energy Anyone with a Windows PC can cut energy costs with just a few mouse clicks: In Windows XP the corresponding settings can be made through "Control panel/Power options." This allows the user to set when the computer will go into "Sleep" mode during inactive periods. Screen savers are no longer recommended. A black monitor requires less energy than one featuring swimming fish. (dpa)