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Greening Your Purchase of Copiers: A Guide for Federal Purchasers

Key Policy, Guidance Documents

EPA's Final Guidance on EPP

Executive Orders

Federal Acquisition Regulation

Green Purchasing Guides

Information on Standards for Green Products, Services

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing, or EPP, seeks the overall best value, taking into account price competitiveness, availability, regulatory requirements, performance, and environmental impact. Because purchasers typically have clear sources of information on procurement and regulatory requirements and well-established methods for evaluating price and performance, the US EPA has developed these purchasing guides to help government purchasers consider environmental factors in purchasing decisions. EPA realizes that there are not universal answers for all scenarios and that purchasers must take into account local conditions when weighing the various attributes of a particular product. Please note that EPA is not endorsing any of the products, services, or organizations described in the guides, and has not verified information provided by these organizations. Read more information about the EPP Program's history, tools, and resources.


Copiers for some time have been an important element of communication and an omnipresent feature in offices. But, as with any product, various environmental impacts can occur throughout the product's life cycle. By considering a variety of life cycle attributes, from the materials used to manufacture copiers to energy use to recycling and disposal issues, purchasers can make informed decisions about copier purchases and use.

The purpose of the guide is to provide practical information that will assist federal purchasers in making purchasing decisions. The guide is not a risk assessment document nor is it intended to substitute for Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS), labels, or similar documents that provide information on proper storage, handling, use, and disposal. More comprehensive information on copiers is available from a variety of sources, a number of which are listed in the "Contacts and Resources" section of the guide.

Why Green Your Copier?

*(Massachusetts Operational Services Division, November 2000)

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Federal EPP Authority and Mandate

Spending approximately $230 billion annually on a large quantity and wide variety of products and services, the federal government leaves a large environmental "footprint." However, by purchasing environmentally preferable products and services, the federal government can wield its spending power to increase national demand for greener products as well as to help meet environmental goals through markets rather than mandates. In 1995, in response to Executive Order 12873 "Federal Acquisition, Recycling, and Waste Prevention (PDF)" (9 pp, 32Kb, About PDF), EPA established the Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) program to encourage and assist Executive agencies in the purchase of environmentally preferable products and services. The Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR), which establishes uniform procedures and policies for federal acquisition, was amended on August 22, 1997 to support federal procurement of "green" products and services. In addition, Executive Order (E.O.) 13101, entitled "Greening the Government through Waste Prevention, Recycling, and Federal Acquisition," directed Executive agencies to "consider . . . a broad range of factors including: elimination of virgin material requirements; use of biobased products; use of recovered materials; reuse of product; life cycle cost; recyclability; use of environmentally preferable products; waste prevention (including toxicity reduction or elimination); and ultimate disposal" when making purchasing decisions and to "modify their procurement programs as appropriate." And, most recently, Executive Order 13123, "Greening the Government Through Efficient Energy Management (PDF)" (12 pp, 103Kb, About PDF), and FAR Section 23.704 direct agencies to purchase products in the upper 25 percent of energy efficiency, including all models that qualify for the ENERGY STAR® labeling program. (Information on ENERGY STAR® can be found throughout this guide).

Five Guiding Principles

To help government purchasers incorporate environmental considerations into purchasing decisions, EPA developed five guiding principles. The guiding principles provide a framework purchasers can use to make environmentally preferable purchases. The five principles are:

  1. Include environmental factors as well as traditional considerations of price and performance as part of the normal purchasing process.
  2. Emphasize pollution prevention early in the purchasing process.
  3. Examine multiple environmental attributes throughout a product's or service's life cycle.
  4. Compare relevant environmental impacts when selecting products and services.
  5. Collect and base purchasing decisions on accurate and meaningful information about environmental performance.

More information on the five guiding principles.
More information on life cycle perspective.

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What is a "Green" Copier?

A green product is one that has "a lesser or reduced effect on human health and the environment when compared to other products and services that serve the same purpose" (Executive Order 13101). Although it is important to realize that technology is constantly changing, the following factors are currently reasonable to consider in your copier purchase.

If you are considering the purchase of a copier, look not only at the immediate environmental properties of the copier, but also at the complete environmental effects of the copier throughout its life cycle, such as manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and usage (including paper and printing options), as well as disposal. EPA conducted a pilot project which helped in the preparation of this guide.

What Can You Do?

It is important to consider all of your options when deciding how to handle your organization's copying needs. Below are some of the options and factors to examine.

Leasing or Buying a Copier

Leasing is an important option to consider. It relieves you of the disposal responsibilities and allows for periodic equipment upgrades when new technology that may be more environmentally preferable is released.

Document Reproduction Services

One option to consider is purchasing document reproduction services. This option entails sending your material to a company that makes the copies and returns the work. Often this is used for large copy jobs. This may often be the more environmentally preferable option—but it is not always practical in every situation (i.e., where there is a frequent need for immediate copies throughout the day).

Multi-Functional Systems

You also might want to consider a multi-function machine (e.g., combining a printer, fax, scanner, copier, and document management into one package). Especially if your office is small with lower equipment usage, it often can be the most economically and environmentally sound decision. Purchasing a multi-functional system often provides the office necessities that would cost over one and a half times that amount if bought separately. Their compact size and the multiple capabilities from a single print engine mean that less energy is being consumed—one print engine idling uses less energy than three print engines (fax, copier, printer) idling. It has been estimated that energy consumption can be reduced by approximately 40 percent by the replacement of an office copier, four laser printers, and a fax machine with a single multi-functional system. In addition, upgradable multi-functional systems can provide flexibility to customers, by allowing them to initially purchase a machine with basic functions such as copying and later upgrade the machine to add print, fax, or scan functions.

A recent trend in copy services is the cost-per-copy contract. Read the success story of the National Aeronautics & Space Administration (at the end of this document). NASA created its own environmentally preferable system for purchasing document reproduction, which addressed such issues as energy efficiency and recycling while reducing costs and creating efficiencies.

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Leasing or Purchasing a New (or Used) Copier

The following are considerations to help you look at green copier options.

  1. Determine applicable environmental attributes for your situation.

    Evaluate your workspace to prioritize what attributes are most appropriate and important to your situation. For instance, if you are aware that your office space has poor air circulation, you might give high priority to those attributes related to indoor air quality. Make sure to choose a copier with the right monthly copy volume. Calculate the number of copies you need each month. Most machines have a counter—talk to your copier service representative, who should be able to help you calculate this number. Using a copier rated for a higher volume (or faster) than your daily needs can double your energy use.

  2. Conduct product research beyond the usual research on price and performance (e.g., by utilizing third party testing analysis, industry-developed statements, self certifications).

    It may be useful to break the environmental attributes into the following categories:
    • Requirements: Those environmental attributes that the purchaser is confident can be obtained at a reasonable price and level of performance. If a purchaser requires too much, the procurement may be unsuccessful because the price will be too high, or no vendors may bid at all.
    • Preferences: Those environmental attributes which are desirable but not vital, but send a signal to vendors informing them of the purchaser's additional needs. To find this information, ask your copier company representative. Although he or she may not know the answers right away, the representative should be able to find them. As demand increases for more environmentally friendly products, this information should become more readily accessible. Any copier lacking any of your requirements should be disqualified. Then you may want to compare copiers which have already met your requirements and determine which has the most preferences or which preferences are most important.

    It is important to carefully consider which attributes to include as requirements and which as preferences, according to your situational needs.

    The following are basic considerations for purchasing environmentally preferable copiers—determine your requirements and preferences as appropriate. When possible, choose copiers that:

    • Comply with the EPA ENERGY STAR® Program, and are equipped with reasonable recovery time from Energy Star power management modes.
    • Are able to perform duplex copying. (Organizations should set a policy preferring double-sided copies, clearly mark duplexing options, and educate employees about these features.)
    • Use returnable, recyclable, or remanufactured toner cartridges.
    • Use an organic photoreceptor (if not organic, avoid hazardous metals such as arsenic, cadmium, or selenium).
    • Do not use wet process technology.
    • Minimize emissions of dust, ozone, and VOCs such as styrene.
    • Contain no polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) or diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) listed under EPA's proposed Significant New Use Rule (SNUR).
    • Are designed for remanufacturing and reuse of parts. (Organizations should avoid policies that require all new parts and thus discriminate against equipment with reprocessed parts.)
    • Contain materials made with recycled content.
    • Use minimal packaging and/or arrange for packaging taken back for reuse.
    • Can be taken back by the vendor at the end of its useful life for remanufacturing, refurbishing, or recycling of parts.

  3. Develop contract language or performance evaluation criteria.

    See the EPP Database for contract language.

  4. Solicit bids/information along with appropriate documentation/certification.

    Be sure that companies substantiate their claims with documents, such as Material Safety Data Sheets.
  5. Review and evaluate bid responses.

    Consider your environmental requirements and preferences along with traditional purchasing considerations such as quality, price, and performance.

  6. Receive a demonstration of the leading contender machines.

    It is important that these machines not only have the above-mentioned options available, but that they also are easy to use and/or are programmable.

  7. Select the best value copier and make the award.

    The best value might be based on the highest number of preferences met after the requirements were met. Normal performance and cost considerations should be considered along with the environmental attributes.

  8. Maximize environmental features and train employees to use them.

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End-of-Life Issues - Some Alternatives to Disposal

Since you are interested in buying or leasing a newer, greener copier, you may be looking into disposing of your old copier in the near future. The best option is to give your old copier a new life. Some manufacturers are redesigning copiers to be more easily disassembled for recycling, and some manufacturers will take copiers back to recondition or remanufacture certain components for reuse. Contract conditions can be added to require vendor removal and recycling of replaced equipment. There is a growing market for remanufactured copiers.

You should be aware that most older copiers contain circuit boards with lead, and some analog models have heavy metals, like selenium, in the drum. Lead and selenium pose disposal concerns because they are toxic. Purchase, rental, or leasing agreements that stipulate take-back of the copier when you no longer need it can avoid the need for you to manage the copier as a waste. This puts the responsibility for safe management of toxic materials on those who provide you the equipment.

Copiers with all-in-one toner cartridges that can be re-engineered are becoming more common with the introduction of digital technology. These cartridges may be sent to a remanufacturer, saving resources and cutting waste. All-in-one cartridges have the toner, drum and other components of the imaging system in one unit, as opposed to separate drums and toner bottles. In the remanufacturing process, cartridges are disassembled; worn or defective parts are replaced; and, the unit is cleaned, refilled, and reassembled. Such cartridges may be remanufactured a number of times. For other toner cartridges, return and recycling programs are often available, for example by the original cartridge manufacturer.

Success Stories

NASA's Environmental Approach to Copiers

NASA's unique "cost-per-copy" agency-wide contract, which means the agency purchases copy services rather than machines, allowed the inclusion of several environmental features important to NASA, including recycled paper and energy-efficiency. As a result, the agency estimates it will save approximately $4.5 million during the 5-year span of the contract. In a cost-per-copy contract environment, the contractor provides convenient copiers, all supplies including toner (which previously was a separate, high-cost item for all NASA sites), preventive maintenance, repairs and repair parts, training, moves, and associated labor costs. These convenience copiers were viewed as an easy item to consolidate into one agencywide contract that could yield considerable savings. Consolidating NASA's copier needs into one contract significantly reduced administrative costs associated with contracts being competed, awarded, administered, and closed out.

Ramsey County, Minnesota

When the Environmental Health Section at Ramsey County purchased a copier, the Request for Bids included a requirement about recycled paper performance. Vendors could only respond if they could offer a copier that would work well with recycled-content paper and make two-sided copies. This specification came in handy when the newly installed machine began jamming. The repair technician initially suggested that recycled paper was the problem and recommended switching to virgin paper. When the office manager reminded the technician of the bid requirement, the technician continued to work with the machine to assure it would be properly adjusted to handle the type of paper being used by the office. It took a little more effort by the technician, but the properly adjusted copier delivered the performance the office manager was looking for and allowed the agency to practice what it preaches—to use recycled paper and copy on both sides. Contact: Debbie Hosch (debbie.hosch@co.ramsey.mn.us or 651-773-4466), Ramsey County Clerical Supervisor, for more information.


Many copier manufacturers participate in ENERGY STAR®, a voluntary partnership program established by EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy. ENERGY STAR® labeled copiers are equipped with a feature that allows them to automatically turn off after a period of inactivity, potentially reducing a copier's annual electricity costs by more than 60 percent (ENERGY STAR® Web site). High-speed copiers include a duplexing option that can be set to automatically make double-sided copies — reducing the environmental and financial costs of paper usage. It is important to make sure that these ENERGY STAR® features are enabled when your copier is first delivered.

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Contacts and Resources

GSA's Federal Supply Schedule Contract
GSA assists federal purchasers in fulfilling mandates to purchase recycled content, biobased, naturally renewable, and environmentally preferable products. At the linked site, you can find products available from suppliers listed under GSA's Federal Supply Schedule 36, Special Item Number (SIN) category 51-100 for copiers.

GSA Advantage!
GSA's online shopping service.

Canada's Environmental Choice Program
Includes the criteria for earning the Environmental Choice Program's certification for photocopiers. Exit Disclaimer

Electronic Industries Alliance (EIA) Exit Disclaimer
EIA's mission is to promote the market development and competitiveness of the U.S. high-tech industry through domestic and international policy efforts. EIA and its members proactively address environmental concerns and actively work to reduce the environmental impact of electronic products and manufacturing processes where technically feasible through policy and advocacy work and voluntary industry design for environment tools.

EPA's Purchasing Tool Suite

EPA/OPPT's EPP Program has developed the following Web-based tools to help purchasers consider the environment, along with price and performance, when buying a product or service.

Database of Environmental Information for Products and Services
A searchable database of product-specific information (e.g., environmental standards and guidelines or contract language) developed by government programs, both domestic and foreign, as well as third parties.

EPP's Product and Services - Electronics

Tips for Buying Green with the Government Credit Card
Tips to help government credit card holders make greener choices when buying products, such as cleaning products.

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