Greener Electronics – Major companies fail to show climate leadership

Feature story - November 24, 2008
The latest edition of our Guide to Greener Electronics has revealed that very few firms are showing true climate leadership. Despite many green claims, major companies like Dell, Microsoft, Lenovo, LG, Samsung and Apple are failing to support the necessary levels of global cuts in emissions and make the absolute cuts in their own emissions that are required to tackle climate change.

The electronics industry needs to face up to the problem of e-waste and recycling and take on the challenge of climate leadership.

With world governments discussing a vital global deal on emission cuts this December in Poznan and concluding in Copenhagen at the end of 2009, it's time electronics companies showed climate leadership in two vital areas now - giving their high profile support to the levels of global emissions cuts we need to tackle climate change and showing it can be done by making absolute cuts in their own emissions.

Of the 18 market-leading companies included in the Guide, only Sharp, Fujitsu Siemens and Philips show full support for the necessary cuts of 30 percent for industrial nations by 2020. Only HP and Philips have made commitments to make substantial cuts in their own emissions.

All the other companies in the Guide make vague or essentially meaningless statements about global emissions reductions and have no plans to make absolute emissions cuts themselves. With the need for deep emission cuts becoming ever more urgent it's vital big companies support a global deal and take effective measures now to reduce their overall emissions.

The Guide to Greener Electronics is our way of getting the electronics industry to take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of its products. We want it to face up to the problem of e-waste and take on the challenge of tackling climate change.

First launched in August 2006, the Guide ranks the leaders of the mobile phone, computer, TV and games console markets according to their policies and practices on toxic chemicals, recycling and energy. Since June 2008, the Guide has ranked companies on five climate and energy criteria.

In this current edition we're focussing on climate leadership - not only because the global climate needs it but because electronics firms have a big role to play in the low-carbon economy of the future.

Our Climate and Energy campaigner Mel Francis sees a missed opportunity: "It is disappointing that such innovative and fast-changing companies are moving so slowly, when they could be turning the regulation we need on global emissions into a golden business opportunity."

The low carbon future

To achieve a significant reduction in emissions we'll need measures such as much more efficient transport networks, smarter power grids and home appliances, sweeping improvements to manufacturing efficiency and buildings that use far less energy. In all these areas, electronics are vital in achieving these improvements.

Taking into account all criteria in the Guide, Nokia remains top, Toshiba makes a big improvement to 3rd place and Sharp and Motorola make big jumps up the ranking. The big PC companies such as Dell, HP, Apple and Acer drop down. Dell continues to be overtaken by other companies, with an unchanged score of 4.7. Although Apple drops a place, it improves its overall score slightly to 4.3, with much better reporting on the carbon footprint of its products. Apple has also recently show leadership on removing the worst toxics substances with new iPods free of toxics brominated flame retardants and PVC. All Apple products should be free of these substances by the end of 2008, which will challenge other PC makers to follow their lead.

Much green marketing, more green leadership needed

For several years now many electronics firms have put a great deal of emphasis on green claims. To be truly green, electronics companies must eliminate the worst toxics substance from their products, offer free global recycling, have the most efficient products and push for a low-carbon economy. No company has yet achieved clear leadership across the board. Many have made steady progress but often not in all areas. This edition has shown Philips to one of the leaders on energy but still scoring abysmally on e-waste, and actually still lobbying against progressive legislation to tackle the e-waste problem.

Take Action: Tell Philips to take back and recycle. 

The electronics industry is a fast-moving innovative sector that has often lead by example. Now is the time for it to show real innovation in the face of the tremendous challenge of tackling climate change.

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