Electronics companies green up their act

Feature story - September 19, 2007
The latest edition of our quarterly Guide to Greener Electronics shows that major electronics firms have made large, green strides since the guide was first launched in August 2006. Nokia still leads, closely followed by Sony Ericsson, Dell and Lenovo.

Dismantling of laptops to enable testing of individual components and materials for a range of hazardous substances.

The Greener Electronics Guide has been our answer to getting the electronics industry to face up to the problem of e-waste. We want manufacturers to take responsibility for the unprotected child labourers who scavenge the mountains of cast-off gadgets created by our gizmo-loving ways.

The guide ranks the 14 top manufacturers of personal computers and mobile phones according to their policies and practice on toxic chemicals and recycling. In the first edition of the Guide from August 2006, the average score was 4/10. Now every company scores above 5/10. Click on the version numbers to see how the rankings have changed:

Race to the top

Every company ranked bottom of previous editions have made improvements to move up. Lenovo was bottom of the first guide but rapidly improved its chemicals policy and launched a global takeback program. Apple was bottom of the next two editions but pledged in May to improve its chemical policy and increase its recycling rate. Sony was bottom of the June 07 edition but has since launched in the US the most advanced takeback and recycling programme of any company.

The biggest movers in the latest guide are Sony and LG Electronics. Both have had their penalty points lifted for leaving a US industry coalition that lobbies against producer responsibility for recycling discarded products.

Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner, has been amazed at the progress the Guide has helped create: "There is still a long way to go for some, but the momentum is extremely encouraging. What is very exciting is that while the guide focuses on brand leaders, the improvements can be seen industry wide".

Even companies not featured in the ranking have improved policies in the race to be greener. PC maker Asus has improved it environmental policies and an Indian edition of the ranking has lead to improvements from the two biggest Indian computer companies, WIPRO and HCL.

Hewlett Packard (HP) is the only company who has fallen in each ranking - over taken by competitors, and weakening its support for a strong takeback policy. It also still needs to provide concrete timelines for the complete elimination of hazardous chemicals.

Panasonic now languishes at the bottom, despite launching some products free from the most hazardous chemicals; they fail to deal with old products responsibly. Apple, while not losing points, has dropped to 12th position. Its newly launched iPhone, and new iMac and iPod lines, still include the worst toxic chemicals - allowing its competitors to race ahead.

As well as driving improvements in company policy there are many improvements in company practice since the first ranking. More companies now have free take back programs making it easier to recycle your old electronics. More products are available without the worst toxic chemicals like PVC (vinyl) plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Motorola and LG have joined Nokia and Sony Ericsson in selling phones without these toxic chemicals. Sony has a wide range of products including models of the Walkman, camcorders and a digital camera that are partially BFR and PVC free. Panasonic lists examples of PVC free products that include DVD players, home cinemas, and video players.

Publicly comparing the performance of these companies has proven a highly effective way to bring about quick improvements in their environmental policies. However, we are still waiting for the companies to act on their promises to market a computer completely free of the worst toxic chemicals. 

Take action

You can keep the pressure up by writing to the CEO's of the top computer firms to challenge them to produce a greener computer.

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