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Tech companies to mine for sustainability data

The Sustainability Consortium signs on HP, Dell, Best Buy, Intel, Toshiba, and Wal-Mart to research ways to measure the environmental and social impact of consumer electronics.

A handful of IT companies plan to work with the Sustainability Consortium to come up with a better way to define "green" in electronics.

The Sustainability Consortium was originally formed when retail giant Wal-Mart launched an initiative in 2008 to create a sustainability rating for suppliers. The group now employs researchers from academia and nongovernmental organizations to create methods for measuring the environmental and social impact of products from a wide range.

On Thursday, Hewlett-Packard, Dell, Toshiba, Intel, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart said they will work with the Sustainability Consortium on a system for rating electronics based on environmental and social aspects.

The initial work on assessing desktops, laptops, and monitors will be released in the third quarter of this year. The goal is to create criteria for all sorts of consumer electronics.

During a conference call on Thursday, representative from Dell and HP--both recognized as sustainability pace-setters in the IT industry--said that the research was meant to make it easier for consumers to choose products based on environmental criteria.

But how and whether the Sustainability Consortium will collaborate with existing electronics certification programs is still unclear. In addition to EnergyStar, there is the EPEAT environmental rating system, although it is not yet widely recognized outside of institutional buyers.

Having another sustainability index could cause confusion with consumers. But representatives from HP and the Sustainability Consortium said the primary goal is to deliver reliable methods for measuring green attributes and generating data, rather than develop another label.

"This approach should be more scientific than subjective in nature," said Judy Glazer, HP's director of global social and environmental responsibility operations.