Sweden-based IT certification organisation TCO has updated its programme to move from a pure product focus to include social responsibility requirements in the production phase of products. The organisation has opened the way for manufacturers to test and certify products in advance of the official worldwide launch to IT buyers - May 2012 for PC categories, with September targeted for computer displays.
The TCO’s view is that with increasing interest in sustainability, it’s important that IT products are not only designed for the environment and performance, but also that there are fair working conditions and other social aspects during manufacture.
The TCO certification programme has been around for almost 20 years, during which time sustainability has grown in significance, alongside high performance and ergonomic design. Certified products – displays, desktops, notebooks, tablets, all-in-one PCs, projectors and headsets - are tested by an independent lab, according to internationally accredited test methods. There is an even higher level of certification – TCO Certified Edge – for displays, all-in-one PCs, notebooks and headsets. The scheme is managed by the Swedish TCO Development company and is seen as one of the most demanding.
TCO says that its certification helps professional purchasers reach their sustainable IT goals by offering them a reassurance of products that are designed with the social, economic and environmental aspects in mind.
The new social responsibility requirements are based on the eight International Labour Organisation (ILO) core conventions and labour laws in the country of production. These set minimum standards for working conditions in production facilities. Manufacturers will need to show that they are improving working conditions in accordance with the ILO conventions if they want to receive the TCO certification. Independent audit reports from production facilities will be required annually and will be independently assessed.
Soren Enholm, CEO of TCO Development, said “The increasing demand for sustainable IT solutions among purchasers, along with the recent attention to socially responsible practices in the electronics industry, makes the new TCO Certified a highly relevant tool in advancing sustainable IT.”
The last comment is a veiled reference to the issues that Apple is facing with the reports of poor working conditions at the Foxconn factories in China, where large quantities of the Apple’s products are manufactured. It does make a lot of sense to take these sorts of social responsibility issues into consideration when sustainability is a factor in product certification.
In my blogs in the past I have primarily referred to EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) and Energy Star as the main environmental certification criteria. That’s mostly been based on the fact that they emerged in the US, the home of most major IT hardware manufacturers. EPEAT also got a head start through its adoption by public sector purchasers in the US. It has since gone international and is increasingly the choice of the public sector in Europe.
But the TCO shouldn’t be forgotten. It’s been around longer and well-recognised for its assessment of quality and, increasingly, sustainability. As I’ve always said, though, that I wish these organisations would all get together, agree a set of universal certifications for sustainability and promote them round the world. Multiple choice in sustainability certification just confuses the market.