Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Greener Electronics

Green peace, the environmental watchdog last month published 10th iteration (Guide to Greener Electronics) of their measurements of some of the famous electronics firms which make personal computers, mobile phones, TV's and games consoles. Greenpeace scored the electronics brands on tightened sets of chemicals and electronic waste (e-waste) criteria and on new energy criteria. Some of the details on the criteria are as follows: i) commitment to eliminating use of toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride plastic (PVC) , brominated flame retardants (BFR) & few others with timeline b) re-use or recycle of e-waste generated by their products & report on the use of recycled plastic content across all products and provide timelines for increasing content c) support for global mandatory reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions & disclosure of the company's own GHG emissions plus emissions from two stages of the supply chain.

Nokia was ranked number 1 on the latest rankings as well as in the last iteration of this ranking system. Nokia scored maximum points for its comprehensive voluntary take-back program, which spans 124 countries providing almost 5000 collection points for end-of-life mobile phones. I would say that is really impressive. I wonder Nokia being a European based company and EU's lead on RoHS compliance and green intiatives has anything to do with them being on the fore-front of these rankings. Apple is till lagging in their rankings although Apple's latest iPods are now free of both PVC and BFRs and the MacBooks, MacBook Pro and MacBook are almost free of these substances. They scored poorly on most e-waste criteria, except for reporting a recycling rate in 2006 of 18% as a percentage of sales 7 years ago.

Skimming through their past rankings what I found interesting was that Lenovo (China's largest and the world's fourth largest personal computer manufacturer), was ranked no 1 among the 14 global manufacturers just 21 months ago (March, 2007, version: 3). Back then Greenpeace cited that improvements in Lenovo's position on environmentally conscious principles and responsibilities, as well as providing recycling or return services wherever its products are sold, as main factors for the company's performance. This time around Lenovo dropped to 16th position primarily faltering on the e-waste criteria which they scored very well just 21 months ago. I wonder what happened there! You can click on the various versions of the ranking graphic above and see how the rankings have changed for these players over the period of 2 years.

Overall interesting stuff, although I am would not put too much stock on the company rankings since they seem to be moving all over the map in the past 2 years. At the same time, this could be telling us a story that probably some of these companies are having false starts on their green initiatives and losing steam afterwards. It is also possible that Greenpeace having tightened their standards and added new criteria since they first started scoring shifted the rankings around. Another thing to keep in mind is that just because some of the companies did not provide data or publish it to Greenpeace does not mean they don't have effective green initiatives.

I think these scoring systems provide visibility and awareness to general masses and they generate enough propaganda so that these big firms (for example Nintendo who came last in the rankings) start taking notice. These rankings would also create some competition among these players to release and share more data, launch more green initiatives to demonstrate that they indeed are environmentally conscious and save their brand image. Nevertheless it is all a step in the positive direction...


1) Courtesy: Greenpeace.org
2) http://news.cnet.com/Lenovo-smiles-at-Greenpeace-ranking/2100-11395_3-6173695.html?tag=mncol

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