Plaudits and criticisms in green electronics review

30 June 2008

Greenpeace dumped Philips electronic waste in front of the company’s headquarters

Of the 18 electronics companies evaluated in the eighth edition of Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, two companies scored more than 5/10.

Congratulations are therefore in order for Sony Ericsson and Sony.

First launched in August 2006, the Guide ranks the top market leaders of the mobile phone, computer, television and games console markets according to their policies and practices on toxic chemicals and take-back. It has been a driving force in encouraging companies to make improvements to their environmental policies.

However, the overall score of the ranked companies has apparently dropped as Greenpeace recently tightened the requirements on electronic waste (e-waste) and toxic chemicals, and added new requirements for evaluating companies’ impact on global warming. The newly added energy criteria require companies to show their support for global mandatory cuts in GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions in the post-Kyoto political process. Companies must also commit to reductions in GHG emissions in their own operations.

According to Greenpeace, most companies take a limited view of this by only focusing on the energy efficiency of their products rather than including the production process. “Electronics giants pay attention to environmental performance on certain issues while ignoring others that are just as important,” said Casey Harrell, Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner. “Philips, for example, scores well on chemicals and energy criteria but earns a zero on e-waste since it has no global take-back policies. Philips would score higher if it took responsibility for its own branded e-waste and established equitable global take-back schemes.”

Recently, Greenpeace activists returned e-waste to Philips’ head offices around the world to highlight the company’s failure to take responsibility for its end-of-life products. With protests in the Netherlands, Denmark, India and Russia, Greenpeace urged the manufacturer to introduce global voluntary take-back systems.

“If Philips continues to refuse to live up to its responsibility, the result will be a huge amount of hazardous e-waste spreading around the globe; exposing people and the environment to a cocktail of toxic chemicals,” said Martin Besieux, Greenpeace International toxics campaigner.

Greenpeace suggests that Philips should voluntarily set-up credible take-back systems in all countries where its products are sold; and in particular Russia, India, Argentina and Thailand as these countries are currently discussing future national e-waste legislation.

Philips states that recycling is a shared financial responsibility for the customer, government and the producer, and according to the manufacturer, consumers should pay for recycling by a visible fee. The electronics company is said to be lobbying against legislation that would make companies directly responsible for the costs of recycling their own products.

“Companies such as Sony, Samsung and Nokia have put in place voluntary take-back schemes even in countries where they are not required to do so by law. Philips must have a full, uniform and global programme of taking care of the e-waste generated from its obsolete products, and change from being an environmental laggard to an environmental leader,” said Besieux.

Greenpeace believes that voluntary take-back services will encourage producers to phase out the use of toxic substances in their products at the design stage, allowing for safer recycling and reduced end of life costs for the companies. They are also demanding that all electronics producers take full responsibility for their own-branded e-waste on a global level, ensuring that it is properly recycled or disposed of.

Many companies appear to score well on energy efficiency as their products comply and exceed Energy Star standards. Apparently, the best performers on energy efficiency are Sony Ericsson and Apple, with all of their models meeting, (and many exceeding), Energy Star requirements. Sony Ericsson is notable because it is the first company to score almost top marks on all of the chemicals criteria. With all new Sony Ericsson models being PVC-free, the company has also met the new chemicals criterion in the ranking, having already banned antimony, beryllium and phthalates from models launched since January 2008.

“Greenpeace aims to show which companies are serious about becoming environmental leaders,” said Harrell, adding: “We want them to race toward meeting the new criteria, phasing out other toxic chemicals, increasing the recycling rate of e-waste, using recycled materials in new products, and reducing their impact on climate change.”

Image courtesy of Greenpeace.


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