Greenpeace electronics guide now rates lobbying

New criteria for consumer electronics makers assesses whether companies are lobbying for industrywide laws to prevent competitors from using environmentally damaging materials.

Greenpeace is using its latest green-ratings guide to press consumer electronics companies to do more than just clean up their own act.

The 14th quarterly "Guide to Greener Electronics," (PDF) which rates hardware makers on chemical waste, e-waste, and recycling efforts, now assesses each company's public efforts on environmental issues.

The report, issued Thursday, considers whether a company actively lobbies for industrywide laws that would prevent other companies from using environmentally damaging materials, as part of their corporate sustainability obligations.

Greepeace

Specifically, Greenpeace said companies should support a new version of the European Union's RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics). The update would ban brominated flame retardants (BFRs), chlorinated flame retardants (CFRs), and PVC vinyl plastic from being used in the manufacturing of electronics. (The regulation already restricts how much lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyl (PBB), and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) flame retardants can be used.)

As far as who's the greenest, Nokia still ranks at No. 1, but Greenpeace reduced the company's overall score by one point for "failing to do proactive lobbying" for the RoHS revisions.

The strategy brings an interesting idea to the forefront. With the new criteria, Greenpeace is essentially attempting to harness consumer buying-power to press private industry to pressure politicians.

But does this strategy really work? When picking out a new cell phone or computer, does the average consumer's thought process include a rundown of whether a company has stopped using BFRs in their products and has lobbied to prevent other companies from using them too.

Still, if no one can use a cheap-but-polluting manufacturing material, the playing field is leveled. Lobbying for a revised RoHS could be a win-win for companies that would like to eliminate the use of certain substances but fear creating an advantage for their competition.

Greenpeace asserts there's good reason for the change.

"The use of harmful chemicals in electronic products prevents their safe recycling once the products are discarded. Given the increasing evidence of climate change and the urgency of addressing this issue, Greenpeace has added new energy criteria to encourage electronics companies to improve their corporate policies and practices," Greenpeace said in a statement.

In addition to the ranking chart, Greenpeace issued detailed reports for each company on the list. Among the more interesting tidbits:

• LG Electronics moved up from 11th place to 6th place. Still, Greenpeace docked it one point for "backtracking on its commitment" to make all its products free of PVC vinyl plastic and BFRs by the end of 2010. LG is still committed to that for its cell phones, according to Greenpeace.

• Dell, Lenovo, and Samsung also received a penalty point each for failing to eliminate BFRs in products.

• Apple has come a long way in improving its environmental record. Once chastised by Greenpeace for not doing enough, Apple is now in fifth place--up from ninth in the last report and up from last place a few years ago. Except for power cords still awaiting safety approval in some countries, all Apple products are now free of PVC plastics and BFRs, according to Greenpeace. Apple was also given credit for actively lobby EU governments to ban CFRs, BFRs, and PVC vinyl plastic from electronics manufacturing.

• Microsoft dropped from 15th to 17th in part for failing to show support for the revised version of RoHS and for failing to use printed circuit boards free of BFRs. But the company did score points for managing to use renewable resources for 24 percent of its electricity and for committing to remove PVC, BFRs, and phthalates from its own hardware by the end of 2010.

• Nintendo continues to rank in last place for a variety of reasons. While it now has internal wiring that is PVC-free, it has not eliminated PVC vinyl plastic or BFRs from its products completely and offers no time line for doing so, according to Greenpeace. Nintendo has begun to disclose its emissions but has failed to reduce them, Greenpeace added.

The full report cards for each of the following companies is available on the Greenpeace Web site: Acer, Apple, Dell, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, LG Electronics, Microsoft, Motorola, Nintendo, Nokia, Panasonic, Philips, Samsung, Sharp, Sony, and Toshiba.

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