E-waste in China

Every day, you rely on your computer, mobile phone, or tablet to be more productive, or just to have fun. Gadgets can make our lives better, but the rate at which we collectively purchase and discard them is having a serious impact on our planet.

So people often ask us: "Who is the greenest tech company?" These queries only intensify as we head into the winter holiday shopping season. And we answer this question carefully, with lots of analysis and interaction with consumer electronics companies. 

Often the greenest option for people is to buy only what they truly need, to buy used electronics, and to extend the life of their devices by upgrading parts or replacing a weak battery. The greenest electronic gadget is usually the one you don't buy.

However, when people do need to purchase a new product, there is some good news to report: many electronic companies have improved at removing toxic chemicals from mobile phones, computers and tablets, an important step in the right direction. This change did not happen by accident or altruism; companies changed in large part because of creative people-powered campaigns

The next big challenge for the tech sector is to address the dirty energy embedded in the devices’ manufacturing and supply chains that causes climate change. With an expected 1 trillion USD in sales in 2012, the industry can prevent a lot of global warming pollution if it moves to clean energy in its manufacturing processes.

That’s why today, Greenpeace International released the 18th version of its Guide to Greener Electronics, which ranks 16 leading electronics companies based on their commitment and progress across several environmental criteria that judge how green their products and practices are. 

These companies need to lead so that they can prevent electronic waste from piling up in places such as China, and can ensure that their products are made from clean power, not dirty energy. Electronic companies have also gained political power in many countries, meaning their advocacy for clean energy can have a big impact on government policies.

Wipro, an Indian firm, tops our latest edition of the guide due to its embrace of renewable energy and advocacy for greener energy policies in India. The company also scored well for post-consumer e-waste collection for recycling and for phasing out hazardous substances from its products. Wipro has the set the bar for the sector and it’s time for its competitors to beat that mark.

Taiwanese computer maker Acer was the most improved company in the guide, moving up nine spots to No. 4 for engaging with its suppliers on greenhouse gas emissions, hazardous substances, conflict minerals and fibre sourcing. HP (2), Nokia (3) and Dell (5) round out the top five. Apple dropped slightly from No. 5 in last year’s edition to No. 6, and Blackberry maker RIM did not improve from its rock-bottom 16th ranking.

The guide scores companies on overall policies and practices, not on specific products, so it gives you a snapshot of the sustainability of the biggest names in the industry.

The question is, how did the brand that you buy score in the rankings?

Over the course of the 18 editions of the guide, we've seen companies leapfrog each other in a green race to the top. So you don't need to abandon your favorite brand immediately; instead make sure your voice is heard. Post a comment on your favorite company's Facebook page and share this guide with your friends and family by taking action via social media (buttons on your left). 

All of us – companies and individuals alike – have a responsibility to make our planet more sustainable.

Image: A Chinese worker packs electronic waste on to a small truck in order to transport it for processing. © Natalie Behring / Greenpeace