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How Green Is Your Tech?

By Barry Myers

New York City recently hosted the 2nd Annual Greener Gadgets Conference. According to the Environmental Protection Agency website, the U.S. generates approximately 2 million tons of eWaste annually. Of this, only 20% gets recycled. However, awareness of the need to recycle electronics is on the rise and more and more consumers are looking at how green a company is when evaluating which products to purchase.

Thus, it’s no surprise that being green has become big business. Brands from all corners of the gadget community are falling over themselves to be perceived as greener than the competition. Whether out of a shared concern for the environment, or maybe just a fear of being singled-out for criticism, most companies seem to be making a genuine effort to become more eco-friendly. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean they are all succeeding!

In a recent blog post we reported some of the green news coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show, the industry’s largest, held in Las Vegas in January. To coincide with the show, Greenpeace released their annual report on the environmental impact of the industry, Green Electronics, The Search Continues. In the report, Greenpeace ranks the greenness of the major brands, as well as some specific new products voluntarily submitted in the following categories: Desktop PCs, Notebooks, Mobile Phones, Smartphones, Televisions, and Computer Monitors.

Overall, the report found that consumer electronics are greener than they were a year ago, but that companies must still do more to reduce their environmental impact. Brands are using fewer hazardous products, more energy efficient materials such as LED displays, and are improving take-back and recycling programs, Greenpeace says. But it believes that the hunt for a truly green gadget is still on.

Brand Winners

For the brand scoring, companies were judged by three main criteria: (1) reducing or eliminating the inclusion of hazardous substances in their products; (2) creating effective programs for consumers to recycle their products; and (3) reducing the overall negative environmental impact of production of their products. Points were given on a scale up to100 and the total was then divided by ten to provide the final score.

So, who were the winners and losers? Which are the greenest electronics brands and why?  Let’s take a look:

  • 6.9 Nokia  Scored maximum points for its comprehensive voluntary take-back program.
  • 5.9 Sony Ericsson  Scored points for its new environmental warranty, which guarantees recycling for individual products regardless of location.
  • 5.9 Toshiba-Toshiba  Climbed to 3rd, due to its updated energy reporting criteria.
  • 5.9 Samsung Good on toxic chemicals and energy but very poor on recycling.
  • 5.7 Fujitsu Siemens  Good on energy but scored poorly on electronic waste.
  • 5.7 LGE  Improved score on recycling and energy.
  • 5.3 Motorola  Improved score on energy, waste and recycling.
  • 5.3 Sony  Still room for improvement on energy.
  • 5.1 Panasonic Scored maximum points on energy but scored poorly on all eWaste criteria.
  • 4.9 Sharp Improved energy policy but weak on reporting of energy efficiency of its products.
  • 4.7 Acer Needs to improve on reducing toxic chemicals and recycling.
  • 4.7 Dell Lost points for withdrawing from its commitment to eliminate all PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) by the end of 2009.
  • 4.5 HP  Still needs to improve on e-waste.
  • 4.3 Apple  Now reporting product carbon footprint and new iPods are free of both PVC and BFRs.
  • 4.1 Philips  Scored well on toxics and energy but scored zero on most other eWaste criteria.
  • 3.7 Lenovo  Scored well on toxic chemicals, poor on recycling and energy.
  • 2.9 Microsoft Still scored poorly on recycling and energy.
  • 0.8 Nintendo Zero on most criteria except chemicals management and energy.

Individual Product Winners

The survey also evaluated individual products against four criteria, again with a total of 100 points available which was divided by 10 to provide the final tally: use of hazardous materials (30 points), energy efficiency (30), product lifecycle (including recyclability) (30), and innovations / marketing (10). The winners in each category are below.

  • Desktop PCs: Lenovo ThinkCentre 58/M58p - 5.88
    The Dell Studio Hybrid, which has been trumpeted as very eco-friendly, finished 3rd and didn't even reach a score of 5.
  • Notebooks: Toshiba Portege R600 - 5.57
    Apple’s MacBook Air, labeled eco-friendly by the company, was not submitted.
  • Mobile Phones: Samsung SGH-F268 - 5.45
    Greenpeace noted that major steps have been made in the use of chemicals in this category, with all but one of the submitted products claiming to be PVC-free.
  • Smartphones: Nokia 6210 Navigator - 5.20
    It would have been great to see how the iPhone stacked up.
  • Computer Monitors: Lenovo L2440x wide - 6.90
    It’s interesting that computer monitors represented the greenest portion of this report, with two of them reaching 6+ points. Of course, scoring 6 out of 10 is still not that great!
  • Televisions: Sharp LC-52GX5 - 5.92

Notably, Apple, which has been the target of much criticism by Greenpeace in the past despite touting the environmental-friendliness of its latest products, refused to take part in the product survey, as did Asus, Microsoft, Nintendo, Palm and Philips.

Greenpeace had hoped to include gaming consoles in the study, but Microsoft and Nintendo both refused to participate. Hopefully this category will be included next time, although you’re free to draw whatever conclusion you like from their refusals!

Barry Myers has been helping consumer technology brands communicate with consumers for over 12 years. Most recently he was a co-founder of DigitalLife, the country’s biggest consumer-facing technology conference and exposition. He’s currently hard at a work on his own niche social network. Barry lives in Manhattan with his wife, two-year old son, and twin cats Al and G.

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