Nokia tops latest Greener Electronics Guide

Feature story - 16 September, 2008
Company scores plummeted in the previous edition of Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics, when new criteria on climate change were introduced. However, leading brands like Nokia and Samsung are now making significant progress in greening their electronics products, with improved environmental policies responding not only to these new energy criteria, but also to the more stringent chemical and e-waste criteria.

Boys burning electronic cables and other electrical components in order to melt off the plastic and reclaim the copper wiring. This burning in small fires releases toxic chemicals into the environment.

The Greener Electronics Guide is our way of getting the electronicsindustry to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of theirproducts. We want them to face up to the problem of e-waste and take onthe challenge of tackling climate change.

First launched in August 2006 and now in its 9th edition, the Guideranks the leaders of the mobile phone, computer, TV and games consolemarkets according to their policies and practices on toxic chemicals,recycling and energy.

The Guide has been a key driving force in getting many companies to make significant improvements to their environmental policies, and it continues to provoke significant change in the industry. Intel recently announced that its new Xeon 5400 processors use transistors made from hafnium, thus avoiding the use of toxic  Brominated Flame Retardants (BFRs). Last week, we also saw the announcement by Apple that its new line of iPods would be free of BFRs, PVC and mercury.

Who's in the lead, and who's in need?

Scoring seven points out of ten, Nokia has regained the lead, due largely to its improved take-back practice in India. Samsung, a top scorer on the energy-efficiency of its products, takes second place with 5.9 points. Fujitsu Siemens Computers jumps to third place with 5.5 points, having finally set late 2010 as its deadline for eliminating toxic PVC plastic and all BFRs from across its product range. Although Sony Ericsson and Sony - who enjoyed the top two positions in the previous edition - rank fourth and fifth respectively this time around, they remain in the top half of the ranking with scores of 5.3 each.

Languishing at the bottom of the ranking is Sharp with 3.1, Microsoft with 2.2 points and Nintendo, with only 0.8.

Greener Electronics: Toxic-free

We want manufacturers to eliminate harmful chemicals in their product design. While no company has, so far, released a computer completely free of BFRs and PVC, several have recently launched products with restricted amounts of toxic BFRs and PVC. Sony Ericsson stands out, having banned hazardous chemicals such as antimony, beryllium and phthalates since the beginning of the year. All of its new models are PVC-free. Following the lead set by companies like Sony Ericsson, and Nokia, Apple has also announced that its new line of iPods will be free of BFRs, PVC and mercury.

This is a first step towards Apple putting its money where its mouth is: Apple committed to a complete phase-out of PVC and BFRs from all of its products by the end of 2008. With the new iPods being the cheapest models yet, this is clear proof that high-performing electronics products can be affordable, popular and effective without using toxic chemicals. A downside to Apple's new iPod is its built-in obsolescence; because of the high costs to replace the battery, new product purchase is encouraged.

Apple has positioned itself among the leaders on PVC and BFR phase-out, but the iPod alone is not enough to increase its overall score. A complete phase out of all toxic chemicals across its entire product range would improve Apple's ranking, and the company needs to improve its record on recycling and climate policy. We're urging Apple to introduce a free, global recycling scheme like rivals such as Dell.

Greener Electronics: Energy-efficient

Since the 8th edition of the Guide criteria to assess the companies' performance in tackling climate change have been introduced. The global Information and Communication Technology industry is estimated to be responsible for approximately 2 percent of global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, and the rapid proliferation of energy-hungry electronic gadgets is part of this. It's vital that the electronics industry plays a leading role in producing more energy-efficient products. Aside from assessing the efficiency of their products, we also score companies according to how much renewable energy they use and the level of their commitment to significantly reducing emissions.

Top scorers on energy-efficiency of individual products are Apple, Nokia, Sony Ericsson and Samsung, with Toshiba providing a further example of a company that is improving its climate policy.

Greener Electronics: Responsibly recycled

We want to see an end to the stories of unprotected child labourers scavenging mountains of cast-off gadgets created by society's gizmo-loving ways. The latest place where we have discovered high-tech toxic trash causing horrendous pollution is in Ghana. Our recent investigation into e-waste dumping in Ghana revealed major companies' products being torn apart in almost mediaeval conditions, exposing people to alarming levels of toxic contamination.

Philips stands out as the company with the worst position on e-waste and recycling. It ranks 12th with 4.3 points, retaining its penalty point for negative lobbying on Individual Producer Responsibility in the EU. Put simply, this means that companies like Philips believe that the costs for responsible recycling of their obsolete and end-of-life products should be met by governments and consumers (and that means you!).

Philips has a bad history of holding this negative stance on recycling. Together with Sharp and Sanyo, Philips was a member of the Electronic Manufacturers' Coalition for Responsible Recycling, a coalition of TV producers in the US that lobbied against producer responsibility for financing e-waste recycling and instead putting this responsibility - and expense - on governments and the buyers of its products (that means you!). Many companies left this coalition after being either penalised or threatened with a penalty in earlier editions of our Greener Electronics Guide, and the coalition was finally dissolved in August.

Switching to Green Electronics

With more companies now scoring higher than 5 out of 10 - the halfway mark in the ranking - a company that rises to the challenge of phasing out toxic chemicals, increasing the recycling rate of e-waste, using recycled materials in new products and reducing its impact on climate change could soon find itself winning the race to produce the world's first truly green electronics.

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