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Greenpeace rates electronics makers' green claims

'Tis the season for greening gadgets. In its quarterly ranking, Greenpeace sees progress on electronic waste and toxics but pressures firms to act on global warming.

Greenpeace said that electronics manufacturers are making progress on reducing toxic materials and waste, but not making bold enough moves to cut energy usage.

The environmental watchdog on Monday published its 10th Guide to Greener Electronics, which it releases every three months. This edition adds five new criteria for energy, including whether manufacturers report usage, whether they purchase renewable power, and how efficient their products are.

Out of the pack, Nokia is on top, with Nintendo and Microsoft bringing up the rear.

Nokia get props for its comprehensive take-back program, which is now in 124 countries. In 2005, it phased out the use of PVC plastics and has set a target of cutting out brominated flame retardants and antimony trioxide by the end of next year.

Microsoft ended up in the second-to-last position for the second year largely because it has not yet phased out the use of toxic chemicals and doesn't have a voluntary take-back program. Nintendo gets rapped across the knuckles for not committing to a timeline for cutting out hazardous materials .

Meanwhile, Apple--once a last-place finisher--gets kudos from Greenpeace for its recently launched MacBook, which Apple touts as the "industry's greenest notebook." But Apple, too, still uses toxics in many products and it can do more on recycling and greenhouse gas emissions, says Greenpeace.

The lousy scores notwithstanding, Greenpeace says that, as a group, electronics manufacturers are improving when it comes to electronic waste and hazardous chemicals. But it added energy usage to its yardstick because global warming is an urgent problem.

"We need more than green talk from companies before we can call them leaders," said Greenpeace International campaigner Casey Harrell, in a statement. "We need to see action--rapid deployment of clean energy, innovative efficiency solutions and bold advocacy for fast action on global warming."

Perhaps not surprising, the The Consumer Electronics Association reacted a bit defensively to the latest report.

Parker Brugge, vice president of environmental affairs for the Consumer Electronics Association, told The New York Times Green Inc. blog that there has been a good deal of progress within the industry on environmental matters.

At the same time, he acknowledged that there is still more that can be done. "I'm not suggesting the products the industry makes are completely sustainable," he said.

People no doubt complain that Greenpeace is nitpicking or being too harsh in rating electronics manufacturers. But that's what an environmental watchdog group does: set a high bar and encourage corporations to meet it.

If done well, these sorts of scorecards also help consumers sort out the various factors that should back up the many green marketing campaigns.