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Tech makers fail to clean up their act, says Greenpeace

Consumer electronics companies get dismal "green" ratings by Greenpeace, but largely because the watchdog group has upped the ante.

2 min read
Scores rose from an average of 4 points to peak at 6.6 last September, and then fell back to 4 as the watchdog group toughened its criteria.
Scores rose from an average of 4 points to peak at 6.6 last September, and then fell back to 4 as the watchdog group toughened its criteria. Elsa Wenzel/CNET Networks

Nintendo is the least eco-friendly electronics maker, and Microsoft is barely better, according to Greenpeace. The environmental group rated the practices and designs of gadget makers lower than ever in its eighth quarterly report card (PDF).

Only two corporations scored above 5 out of 10 possible points in the report released Wednesday, down from 14 companies in March. Apple, for one, tumbled to 4.1 points in June after earning 6.7 in March more than a year after Steve Jobs' highly-publicized pledge to remove toxic ingredients from products and improve product takeback options.

Among the paltry few brands whose scores have improved is Nintendo, which ranked last with a .8 score. That was better than .3 in the spring and zero in December 2007. Greenpeace nailed the game console maker for failing to phase out toxic chemicals and for neglecting to help customers recycle.

A quick comparison of present and past scores may make it seem as if consumer electronics makers are reversing their progress since Greenpeace released its report in 2006.

That's because the eco-watchdog has raised the bar with the June version of its rankings.

The group is weighing more heavily the reduction of toxic chemicals and power hunger of gadgets, in addition to each brand's e-waste practices.

As for the latest scores, Nokia would have been at the top of the heap, had it not lost a point for failed recycling in India.

Sony and Sony-Ericsson tied for the top slot with 5.1 points each, largely for efforts to reduce plastic ingredients such as PVC and phthalates.

With a middling 4.1 score, Apple won marks for removing the same potential hazards from key products including iPods, iMacs, and the MacBook Air, and as well as for taking mercury out of the MacBook Air and some MacBook Pros. Apple has reported a 9.5 percent recycling rate on products sold seven years ago.

By any measure, Microsoft continued to show up near the bottom of the heap. It did not set goals to eliminate PVC or hazardous flame retardants, and it ranked near the bottom of the Greenpeace ratings. The only bright point in Greenpeace's estimation was in Microsoft's timeline to eliminate toxic phthalates from gadgets by 2010.

Despite the dismal-looking scores, those in the electronics sector are increasingly making concerted efforts to create less polluting products.

There's still a long way to go before PCs and gadgets of every stripe stop wasting power and winding up in landfills or e-scrap waste yards.

But for much of this young century, at least, most big, global names in the business have been complying with European rules to reduce hazardous substances, such as lead from solder in circuit boards and mercury from monitors.

In addition, designers are playing with modular designs and biodegradable materials that can easily be taken apart or broken down. Efforts are also on the rise to create universal power supply standards to stop phantom power waste.

Greenpeace aims to keep electronics makers on their toes with its rankings system.