Questions about the Guide to Greener Electronics

Page - June 25, 2008
Here we address common questions about the ranking guide.

Why is the ranking only based on public information?

For the past 4 years we have been campaigning for electronic companies to reduce toxic chemicals usage and improve take back and responsible recycling. This involves regular meetings/calls with the majority of these companies to exchange information and discuss company progress and relevant industry developments. However we only rank companies on their public information and practice, not private information to ensure the ranking is transparent and companies can be held publicly accountable when they do make commitments. Also making changes public helps drive competition between the companies. 

The ranking only awards corporate promises, why not real action?

Several criteria score company commitments on issues such as the phase out of toxic chemicals as this takes time to implement. Criteria such as having models without the worst toxic chemicals on the market score double to reward companies moving faster than their competitors. 

How do you ensure companies match commitments with action?

As the guide ranks company policy and practice it is vital to check if what a company states is actual happening. We use chemical testing of products, reports from industry observers, media reports and testing of consumer programs like takeback to check if company practice actually matches stated policy. We use penalty points where we discover actual actions in contradiction of company policy. When we deduct penalty points, we explain clearly why. HP was deducted a penalty point when our testing discovered a chemical it claimed not to use. LG and Sony lost a point each for lobbying for US consumers to pay recycling fees in direct contradiction to their global policy statements. For the Nov 07 edition we checked in practice the global 'takeback' claims of several companies. HP had the penalty point lifted after improving supply chain management. LG and Sony both left the regressive US lobby group and had their penalty points lifted. This shows that public penalty points in the ranking is proving very effective to ensure corporate words are matched by actions.TOP

Why do you not assess the companies manufacturing chains in detail?

While a detailed assessment of a company's manufacturing processes and supply chain would be the ideal, the level of corporate secrecy regarding many company supply chains makes this impossible. The ranking is a start in helping make companies more open about how their products are made.TOP

Why don't you suggest alternatives to toxic chemicals?

Alternatives are available for many hazardous chemicals used in electronics - otherwise progressive companies would not have been able to replace lead solder, brominated flame retardants, and PVC. Often, hazardous chemicals are not replaced by other chemical additives, but by inherently safer materials that don't need such additives. For example many manufactures are replacing plastic casing containing BFRs with metal casings that don't need BFRs. Greenpeace supports the development of less hazardous alternatives through technical dialogue with companies and governments, including contribution to the US EPA's evaluation of alternatives to brominated resins for circuit boards. Ultimately, however, it is for companies themselves, who have large R&D budgets and specific expertise, to develop those alternatives and ensure they are properly evaluated.TOP

Why are companies that don't respond included?

The major market leaders in the mobile phone, computer, TV and games console markets are included. All companies are contacted in advance of each ranking version. Of the current 18 companies in the Guide only Nintendo has to date not responded to any requests for relevant information on their environment policy and practice. More info on Nintendo and the ranking can be found on our weblog.TOP

Has the Guide actually created any change?

Since the Guide was launched in August 06 it (and increased coverage and awareness of toxics in electronics and e-waste) has driven numerous improvements. Many companies removing the worst toxic chemicals from their products and improving their recycling schemes. Lenovo, for example, has since launched a worldwide takeback scheme, Sony has vastly improved its US takeback scheme. Apple, since being ranked last in previous editions of the guide, has pledged to recycle more than rivals. This demonstrates than many of the companies ranked in our guide not only take the results very seriously but also take action to improve their performance and of course ranking.TOP

Why only add climate and energy criteria now?

The Guide was originally created to drive improvements on toxicchemicals and recycling to tackle to growing problem of e-waste. Todevelop new criteria on climate and energy has taken considerable timedue to several factors:

  • The complexity of creating criteria relevant to companies that make different products in different ways
  • Developing criteria that as accurately as possible allow companies efforts to be compared across sectors
  • Consulting with leading independent energy experts such as US EPA Energy Star and the Wuppertal Institute for Climate, Energy and Environment.


Why not just rank companies on energy efficiency of products?

Product energy efficiency is just part of the carbon footprint of an electronic product. The supply chain, shipping, distribution can all lead to significant greenhouse gas emissions before a product is used. This is why companies who have assessed the greenhouse gas emissions generated by the company and have a plan to significantly reduce these emissions will score well. TOP


Why is carbon offsetting and being "carbon neutral" not included?

The priority is to cut emissions significantly now. Electronics companies can take many steps to direct cut emissions from their operations such as installing or buying renewable energy. Carbon offsetting, (such as Dell's 'Plant a Tree for Me' program) should be a last resort not simply a distraction from the emissions reductions required. Without tough global standards for carbon offsets and terms such as 'carbon neutral' are often a meaningless and dangerous distraction that deliver no absolute reductions in emissions.TOP

Why does Nintendo with the most energy efficient game console score zero on energy efficiency?

Nintendo has the most energy efficient console when compared with Sony's Playstation or Microsoft's Xbox. However, no game console meets the Energy Star standard for PCs (v.4.0) the standard used also for game consoles.TOP

Why does Philips score so high on energy issues, but zero on e-waste?

Some brands focus most of their efforts on one or other of environmental issues. To be truly holistic in addressing sustainability, brand owners need to make equal efforts on all environmental challenges. TOP

Why is Greenpeace using the US EPA Energy Star standard as a benchmark?

The energy efficiency criterion needs to compare corporate performance against a common baseline. The US Environment Protection Agency and US Department of Energy Star programme provides the only standard that is recognised globally. 

Requirements for some of the Energy Star product groups, like TVs, are very weak and outdated. Although the Energy Star programme is in the process of raising the standards, Greenpeace recognises that some of the standards are out of date and for this reason requires brand owners to report not only percentage of models meeting the latest Energy standard, but also exceeding it.TOP