Posted by: Kenji Hall on January 9, 2009
Greenpeace and other environmental groups have been one of the driving forces behind the tech makers’ drive to make their gizmos eco-friendly. On Jan. 8 Greenpeace released a 27-page report, titled “Green Electronics…The Search Continues”, that aims to assess just how green the computers, laptops, TVs and cellphones have become. The group looked at 50 products from 15 of the industry’s biggest brands, rating each on energy efficiency, use of recyclable materials, and absence of toxic chemics. It’s all part of Greenpeace’s broader effort to ensure that companies are living up to the public commitments they have been making.
The reality, though, is that it’s hard to come up with a simple metric showing how much progress is being made. Unlike fuel-efficiency standards in cars and packaging labels about fat for food, the eco-friendliness of electronics defy easy measurement. And with so many government-sponsored programs rewarding aggressively eco-friendly companies with a stamp of approval, consumers are bound to get confused.
Greenpeace officials say their efforts are leading to industrywide progress. That means longer-lasting products that don’t contain harmful mercury, lead or brominated flame retardants and that companies will recycle for consumers for free. Recent movements in the industry to meet those demands--a high hurdle just a few years ago--show that companies are listening. The products that scored highest: Toshiba’s Portege R600 notebook PC, Samsung’s SGH-F268 cellphone, Lenovo’s ThinCentre 58/M58p desktop PC and Sharp’s LC-52GX5 flat-panel TV.
The report’s author, Casey Harrell, pointed out that mercury-free light-emitting-diode backlights for PC monitors and TVs--previously reserved for high-end products because of the high cost--have become more mainstream recently. “We don’t want green products to be a niche,” says Harrell. “We want them to be THE products.”
Yet, the list of companies that chose not to participate is as notable as that of the participants. Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft, Asus, Palm and Philips decided not to submit products for Greenpeace’s ranking. Greenpeace also left it to companies that did send products to choose what they wanted to have assessed. To go out and buy more products would have taken too long given that new-product cycles can be as short as several months, Harrell said.
Changing corporate practices isn’t the same as helping consumers find greener products. Even Greenpeace officials who want global green standards say there are too many green labels with metrics that make it hard to compare across product lines. “There’s a proliferation of labels,” says Iza Kruszewska, who worked on the group’s electronics report. “For consumers to use these to assess what to buy is impossible.”