Greenpeace: 'Michael, what the Dell?'

Timed with the release of its updated electronics guide, environmental group protests at Dell for company's failure to meet deadline to remove toxins from its products.

Candace Lombardi
In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.
Candace Lombardi
3 min read
Greenpeace activists at Dell Headquarters in Round Rock, Texas, on Wednesday unfurl a banner as a way of protesting Dell's failure to make good on promises to remove toxic chemicals from its products. Harry Cabluck/Greenpeace.org

Greenpeace activists on Wednesday cloaked Dell headquarters in Texas with a banner directed at founder Michael Dell that read, "Michael, What the Dell? Design Out Toxics! - Greenpeace."

The publicity stunt was timed with the Wednesday release of Greenpeace's 15th quarterly "Guide to Greener Electronics" (PDF).

The environmental activist group gave a low score to computer manufacturing giant Dell for its failure to make good on a promise to eliminate toxins like PVC plastics and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from its products.

Greenpeace gave the company low points in its July 2009 guide for missing the deadline. This time, the group gave Dell low points and protested.

Dell was one of the first companies to commit to removing PVCs and BFRs from all its products, but it missed its 2009 deadline and still has not offered a new deadline as to when it will comply, according to Greenpeace.

But Dell says it does have a deadline in mind for removing certain toxins from its products.

"Dell remains committed to integrating the most environmentally preferable materials into our products, and we're working closely with our suppliers to accomplish this. We have always been committed to eliminating BFR/PVC from our products, and we plan to achieve that goal by the end of 2011 for newly introduced personal computing products," Michelle Mosmeyer, who works in sustainability communications for Dell, told CNET in an e-mail Wednesday.

Mosmeyer went on to point out that while not all Dell products are there yet, some of them are. Dell's G-series LED monitors are free of arsenic, mercury, PVCs and BFRs, and have casings made from 25 percent post-consumer recycled materials. The company sells some Dell notebooks that are mercury-free and have LED backlighting, with plans to introduce arsenic-free glass for all Dell notebooks and some Dell monitors in the near future, according to Mosmeyer.

It's strange that Greenpeace sought to single-out Dell in particular, since the company actually has a pretty good environmental record, according to Greenpeace's own statistics. While Dell did miss its 2009 deadline, the company has often been ranked ahead of many others in past Greenpeace guides for its positive practices and efforts with regard to energy and e-waste.

Dell, for example, has one of the better company records when it comes to recycling. It offers a free recycling program for any Dell-branded product with no new purchase required worldwide. In 2004 it established Reconnect, a partnership with Goodwill to recycle and refurbish old electronics.

Nintendo, by contrast, has consistently ranked last or near last in the Greenpeace guide from year-to-year due to its failure to eliminate toxins, make energy-efficient products, offer convenient recycling options for its customers, and publicly lobby for stricter environmental policies. Plus, in addition to Dell, Toshiba and Samsung have also failed to meet public commitments to eliminate certain toxic substances from their products, according to Greenpeace.

Companies that have eliminated the use of PVCs and BFRs in their products currently for sale include Acer, Apple, HP, Nokia, and Sony Ericsson, according to Greenpeace.

Nokia remains first among electronics companies in the Greenpeace guide.

"It gains points for achieving its goal of phasing out brominated compounds, chlorinated flame retardants and antimony trioxide in all new models of products and for its CEO's statement in support of 30% cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries by 2020," Greenpeace said in its report.

Update 11:58 a.m. PDT: This post was updated to include a response from Dell.