Last week we published our latest Guide to Greener electronics with new companies added - Microsoft, Sharp, Philips and Nintendo. Nintendo being new and coming our bottom with 0/10 certainly made the biggest splash with many big news sites, tech blogs and gaming websites picking up the story. This made for some amusing headlines on several gaming sites. However there was also criticism from some technology sites (Arstechnica, BoingBoing, Guardian) and several angry emails from the public, mainly focussing on Nintendo getting 0/10.
Here I'll address some of the common points raised in detail, this from BoingBoing and lots of other blogs and several emails:
It's unfair just to rank Nintendo because of a lack of public information/didn't Greenpeace contact Nintendo in advance?
We did give Nintendo the chance several times to address issues before the report was published.
We contacted the company by letter to their US, European and Japanese headquarters informing them of our guide, the criteria and that they could contact us with any questions, information or requests several months ago.
No response was received from Nintendo despite reminders. Before the ranking was published Nintendo received their ranking to correct or question anything we may have missed. No response was received.
The 3 other companies newly added to the Guide - Philips, Microsoft and Sharp all did respond in advance and did address certain issues before it was published.
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/progress etc.
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.
No company gets points for simply following minimum legal requirements which Nintendo UK mentioned a response. We push companies to eliminate toxic chemicals beyond minimum legal requirements. Apple, Dell and HP have pledged to do this, phone companies like Nokia and consumer electronics giants like Samsung and Sony are already doing it.
BoingBoing has published my response here.
John Timmer raised several points in his blog on arstechnica claiming our research method was flawed.
The research in general appears lazy
Since 2004 Greenpeace has been working to push major electronic companies eliminating toxic chemical and increase recycling to tackle the growing tide of e-waste. We are in regular contact with most of these major companies to discuss their progress towards these goals and share information on company and industry developments. Often information is shared in confidence but of course we can only base the ranking on publicly available information.
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.
While a detailed assessment of a company's manufacturing process would be the ideal, the level of 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.
Nintendo was offered on several occasions the chance to respond or assess their ranking in advance but were the only company in the ranking not to respond.
Penalty points are arbitrary
As the guide ranks company policy and practice it is vital to check if what a company states is actual happening. 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. This time we checked in practice the global 'takeback' claims of several companies. This is one way to ensure corporate words are matched by actions.
Alternatives are available for many hazardous chemicals used in electronics - otherwise 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.
John broadly agrees with the takeback and recycling criteria and states: "if some companies respond to the bad publicity by expanding recycling programs and ensuring that they're easy to use, then it's possible that something useful will come out of it."
Since the ranking was launched in August 06 the Guide (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 take action to improve their performance and of course ranking.