Electronics turning green
Greenpeace issued our first Guide to Greener Electronics, a quarterly report card for the consumer electronics industry. Our campaigners in China and India could see first hand the harmful impacts of our society’s growing obsession with electronics, as millions of tons of e-waste was dumped in those countries, often being burnt in open pit fires to obtain scrap metal.
Our campaign aimed to change the electronics industry by pushing companies to eliminate the harmful chemicals in the products we use, and for these manufacturers to accept financial responsibility for proper disposal of our electronic gadgets, rather than shipping them overseas.
Unfortunately, the initial results of that first Guide to Greener Electronics were hardly inspiring. The biggest names in electronics failed their first global exam on their green credentials. Only Dell and Nokia scraped a barely respectable score, while Apple, Motorola and Lenovo flunked the test to finish at the bottom of the class.
Undeterred, we kept campaigning. We launched our Green My Apple campaign, and Apple enthusiasts around the globe made it clear that they loved their Mac, but wanted it in green. Apple, eventually, complied. We continued to expose illegal e-waste shipments and pushed for stronger laws governing e-waste and electronics, in the EU, India, and the Americas. Our supporters, and other allied organisations around the globe, joined the chorus for change.
Fast forward four years: the 16th edition of our Guide was published this past Tuesday, and we’re seeing many of the types of the transformative change we hoped for when we began our campaign. Apple, Nokia and Sony Ericsson began to phase out the most toxic substances from their products, and eager to not lose face, other companies began to follow their lead (sometimes with a bit ofencouragement).
Now, many companies, including Acer, the Indian companies Wipro and HCL, Hewlett Packard and Philips are offering smart phones, computers, monitors and televisions, free of the most toxic chemicals, including substances such as PVC plastic and Brominated Flame Retardants, which while toxic are not yet regulated by law.
We see similar gains in product energy efficiency, and in companies embracing the concept of financial responsibility for their products – and offering more opportunities for convenient and free take-back of their products. This is especially crucial in areas outside of the EU that do not yet have e-waste collection laws.
While there is still plenty of room for improvement, most importantly in the areas of planned obsolescence and the health and safety of electronics workers, in many regards environmental campaigners and the electronics industry are no longer diametrically opposed on most ecological issues. It’s the speed of change that we discuss – and this is warranted, given the amount of e-waste that continues to be created every year.
IT companies and climate change
We hope to parlay the success we’ve seen with our ranking guide and use a similar analytical and competitive approach within the IT industry to tackle issues of climate change, as part of our new Cool IT Challenges campaign.
For the past few years, many IT companies have talked about the potential for IT to provide products and services (link) that can reduce greenhouse gases by 15% (compared to a ‘business as usual’ approach) from 2007 to 2020. These solutions range from energy management software, to more data for our electricity grids so we can phase out dirty fossil fuels and upload more renewable energy, and avoiding travel by using technologies such as digital media to video-conferencing.
Similar to our campaign to phase out toxic chemicals, there’s a need to differentiate between the companies that are providing these solutions and the companies that are all talk and no action.
This is especially critical given the significant planned electricity growth of the IT industry as we continue to rely on more cloud services to power our economy (link). If the IT industry continues to grow without aiding our economy’s transition away from a reliance on fossil fuels, it will mainly be part of the climate problem, not the solution, something we (and a half a million of our friends) have already highlighted with certain companies, such as Facebook.
There is good news to report from certain companies, like Google and Cisco, which are either providing these solutions and leading the charge for stronger climate laws, offsetting the recalcitrant fossil fuel lobby.