Terms to know before going green in tech: 80 PLUS, Energy Star, more

Purchasing eco-friendly gadgets and tech can be challenging if you're not familiar with today's green terminology. To help make sense of all the jargon, we've broken down some of today's most common phrases and guidelines so you know exactly what you're buying before making your purchase.

80 PLUS: This certification ensures that a desktop power supply unit achieves 80% energy efficiency (or more) at three specified loads (20%, 50%, and 100%) of its rated load. So, if your PC houses a 500-watt PSU and you only require 20% of its total power, an 80 PLUS PSU will use 125 watts and dissipate 25 watts as heat to produce that 100 watts of power. As a result, an 80 PLUS PSU can reduce both your electricity bill and the amount of heat given off by your PSU. In monetary terms that means an 80 PLUS desktop can save you $13 per year at $0.15 per kWh. (To factor your own savings click here.) In addition, an 80 PLUS PSU causes less wear on your PC's components since it generates less heat than a traditional PSU, thus requiring less cooling power. PSUs with higher certification levels fall into the categories of 80 PLUS Bronze, 80 PLUS Silver, and 80 PLUS Gold, the latter of which offers 90% efficiency at a 50% load.

Biodegradable: If a product (or its packaging) is biodegradable, that means it can be disposed of with minimal negative environmental impacts.

Energy Star: This government-backed labeling program was first created by the U.S.' Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. Certification is granted to consumer products that help protect the environment through energy efficiency. Although it initially applied to computers and monitors, the certification has now expanded to office equipment, home appliances, residential heating and cooling products, lighting, and new homes and commercial buildings. In all, the Energy Star label can be found on over 35 product categories. A list of the specifications (which vary by product category) required to meet Energy Star standards can be found here.

Energy Star Version 3.0: Announced in late 2008, this specification will make TVs 30% more energy efficient than TVs that adhere to the current Energy Star spec. The new guidelines require energy efficiency when TVs are on, off, or in standby mode. For instance, under the new guidelines TVs must consume one watt or less when in standby mode. Recently the California Energy Commission released its own set of standards which are stricter than those found in Energy Star's v3.0 spec. Under the CEC's standards, which will be voted on this summer, California may ban the sale of DVD players, DVRs, cable boxes, and TVs that don't meet its guidelines. Although several companies like Vizio are behind the move, the Consumer Electronics Association, which represents the majority of TV makers is against it.

Energy Star Version 5.0: This new set of stringent specifications will go into effect on October of 2009. The new spec includes a revision of the existing requirements and in addition to computer monitors, it extends the range of display products to include digital picture frames and large commercial displays of up to 60".

EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool): This list of standards was designed to help public and private sectors choose computers, notebooks, and monitors based on their environmental attributes. Guidelines include: restrictions on hazardous substances, reduction of toxics in packaging, elimination of lead, cadmium, and mercury in batteries, the inclusion of a product take-back or battery recycling program, and more. In all, there are 23 required criteria and 28 optional criteria. EPEAT-registered products must meet all 23 required criteria. For more stringent certifications, EPEAT Silver products meet all required criteria as well as 50% of the optional criteria that apply to its product type, whereas EPEAT Gold products meet all the required criteria and 75% of the optional criteria for their product type. A list of all EPEAT-registered products can be found here.

Post-Consumer: This term is used to describe recycled material that has already been used by a consumer. Products that use post-consumer material help lessen the growth of landfills.

RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances): This European initiative restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacturing process of electronical and electronic equipment. The six substances include lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium, polybrominated biphenyls, and polybrominated diphenyl ether. Although the ban on these materials only applies to countries in the European Union, some states in the U.S. (such as California) have passed similar laws.

VOCs (Volatile Organic Compounds): Volatic organic compounds are a variety of gases that evaporate at room temperatures and are hazardous to human health causing poor indoor air quality. VOCs are traditionally emitted from paints, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, and correction fluids. However, they're also emitted from office equipment such as copiers and printers. Samsung's new LED LCD HDTVs feature bezels made of recycled material with no spray-on paints or VOCs used to enhance color. In addition, they feature lead- and mercury-free components and are Energy Star-compliant.

Do you take into account a gadget's eco-friendliness before your purchases? Let us know your thoughts on green tech here.

DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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