Some companies really do make greener electronics

Feature story - January 7, 2010
Apple, Sony Ericsson and Nokia do well in our updated Guide to Greener Electronics, while Samsung, Dell, Lenovo and LGE disappoint.

Our electronics campaigners are blogging from the Consumer Electronics Show (CES 2010) in Las Vegas January 7-10. Their mission: To cut through the greenwash, and highlight product ranges on the market which really are free of hazardous chemicals like PVC (vinyl) plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFR).

CES is a major trade show where electronics companies come to demonstrate new products and jostle for industry media attention (which these days includes many technology blogs like Engadget and Gizmodo). Though it's not open to the public, CES say they expect over 140,000 attendees -- that's a lot of consumer electronics industry people in one place.

"In 2010, we should see significant developments, with products free of PVC and BFRs in the PC and TV markets.

Any company failing to achieve this goal is taking a big gamble with its green reputation. On a positive note, it's good to see non-ranked companies beyond the PC and TV sectors, like Cisco, committing to eliminate these harmful substances."

-- Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner

Guide to Greener Electronics 14th Edition

Apple, Sony Ericsson and Nokia lead the way for product ranges free of the worst hazardous substances with HP following their lead. HP just released the Compaq 8000f Elite business desktop, its first completely PVC and BFR free product, at CES 2010.

Meanwhile Samsung, Dell, Lenovo and LG Electronics (LGE) pick up penalty points in the Guide for failing to follow through on a promised phase-out of toxics in their products.

Most of the companies in our ranking guide had pledged to remove toxic PVC (vinyl) plastic and BFRs from their product range by the end of 2009, which would have meant a greater show of greener, toxic-free products for visitors to see at the CES. But, for now, it's a no show for these companies, who have delayed their phase-out to 2011 or beyond. No doubt they won't mention their backtracking to journalists and bloggers they meet at CES.

What's all the concern about toxic chemicals and e-waste

PVC contaminates humans and the environment throughout its lifecycle; during its production, use, and disposal it's the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics, and can form dioxin, a known carcinogen, when burned. Some BFRs are highly resistant to degradation in the environment and are able to build up in animals and humans.

With the growth of electronic waste, workers who deal with e-waste and the wider community are exposed to significant health risks. Burning of e-waste to recover valuable resources, as routinely takes place in the backyards of China, India and much of the global South, can form dioxins. Eliminating the substances will decrease exposure and increase the recyclability and reusability of electronic products.

Consumers want green, not greenwash

Electronics companies have been moving their "environmental information" links higher and higher on product information webpages in the four years since our first Guide to Green Electronics. Some of it is only greenwash though, and informed consumers can tell the difference.

Last year Apple cleared the final hurdle in eliminating toxic PVC (vinyl) plastic, making it the first company to completely eliminate hazardous BFRs and PVC in its computer systems. Pressure from thousands of Apple lovers and advocates turned the company green in the time it took to go from iMac G5 (2006) to iMac Aluminum (2009).

"It's time for a little less conversation and a lot more action on removing toxic chemicals." That's what our electronics campaigner, Casey Harrell, is saying at CES. Apple, Sony Ericsson and Nokia are winning this game and HP is catching up, but the lack of action from other companies is ensuring that customers and the environment are still losing out.

Ban the toxic stuff for good

Several companies see their scores reduced in this edition of the Guide with the bar being raised on hazardous substances. Having endorsed the precautionary principle, companies now need to actively support bans on PVC, BFRs and chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs) during the revision of the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances in Electronics Directive.

"Companies need to support legislative bans to ensure a consistent phase out of PVC and BFRs across all electronic products," said Iza Kruszewska Greenpeace International toxics campaigner. "Sony Ericsson and Apple are already calling on EU institutions to support such a ban. Other big players like HP and Dell, who have remained silent so far, and Acer need to ensure the ban is passed in the European Union parliament."

Nokia leads the ranking, with a score of 7.3 out of 10. Sony Ericsson follows closely, and is the only company to score full marks on all the toxic chemicals criteria. In third place is Toshiba, but it risks losing points if it fails to meet its commitment to market new models of all its consumer electronics products that are free of PVC and BFRs by 1 April 2010. Philips comes in fourth place, while Apple rises from ninth place to fifth.

Nintendo continues to languish at the bottom of the ranking. Sony is rewarded for its reported 17 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the period 2000-2008, with renewable energy now accounting for 8 percent of the total energy purchased globally each year by the company, up from 2.5 percent a year ago. It also gains for the reported use of 17,000 tons of recycled plastics annually in various products, representing 10 percent of all plastics used in the 2008 financial year. Almost 90 percent of this recycled plastic was post-consumer.

Samsung twitter petition

Samsung drops dramatically from second place to a tied seventh place for failing to eliminate BFRs in all its products by January 2010. With only its latest models of mobile phones free of toxic substances, it has set January 2011 as the deadline for eliminating them from new models of its notebooks and still has no definitive timeline for removing them from its TVs and household appliances.

While Samsung's marketing people are touting their wares at CES, we'll be calling them out on twitter with this petition: petition @Samsungtweets to follow Apple SonyEricsson and HP, and eliminate harmful chemicals like PVC http://act.ly/1l1 RT to sign #actly

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