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Electronics Companies Get Failing Grades for Recycling Programs

{complink 1544|Dell Inc.}, {complink 4750|Samsung Corp.}, and {complink 500|AsusTek Computer Inc.} received the highest marks on a report card from the Electronics TakeBack Coalition, grading computer, television, printer, and game console companies on their efforts to take back and recycle their old products.

While most manufacturers passed, some printer and TV companies received flunking grades. In fact, the printer industry scored the lowest marks. All failed except for {complink 2376|Hewlett-Packard Co.}, as well as a few TV manufacturers like {complink 11517|Funai Electric Co. Ltd.}, RCA, and {complink 4269|Koninklijke Philips Electronics N.V.}

The coalition chose to release the report card in advance of the holiday buying season, when consumers typically buy a large volume of electronics in the United States. I'm wondering if it will have an impact on brand loyalty and sales. Consumers generally look for “green” electronics, companies that take recycling and the environment seriously.

It's also interesting to note that three years ago, no TV company offered a national take-back and recycling program. That's not the case today. Most companies have take-back programs, but the coalition examined whether they are effective in collecting old electronics. The conditions examined were the number of collection sites the companies have in each state, and the volume of materials coming back from consumers.

The coalition also wanted to know if products are being recycled responsibly, rather than exported to landfills or stripping factories in China, Vietnam, India, and elsewhere. They also wanted to know what companies were doing to promote reuse and closed loop recycling, and whether they have transparency when it comes to reporting. It's been discovered that people living near toxic waste dumps have elevated levels of lead in their blood.

A US Governmental Accountability Office (GOA) report released in July appears to have promoted the report card. Late last month, a bill introduced in the US House of RepresentativesResponsible Electronics Recycling Act of 2010 — aims to stop recyclers in the US from dumping electronic waste on developing countries. US Representatives Gene Green and Mike Thompson introduced the bill supported by environmental groups and electronic manufacturers, including Apple, Dell, and Samsung.

Brother, {complink 1688|Eastman Kodak Co.}, {complink 3071|Lexmark International Inc.}, Philips, Funai, Epson, and RCA, now owned by {complink 12441|Technicolor SA}, received failing grades. Samsung also got a “dishonorable mention” on concerns about manufacturing plants in Korea where many young workers have been diagnosed with blood cancers and several have already died.

What steps has your company taken to design an electronics take-back program? Have you been able to measure the positive return on investment from a customer loyalty perspective? And how are you measuring the return and the buzz across social media sites?

16 comments on “Electronics Companies Get Failing Grades for Recycling Programs

  1. maou_villaflores
    October 25, 2010

    This is very alarming and disappointing. I don't have any idea if recycling programs are considered during the project planning of the products of the following electronics companies. Is there any after product life recycling process/program considered for each of the products they released. I would suggest the Bureau of International Recycling should set a guideline and implement policies to stop this. BIR should require a strict certification program for every electronic products. 

  2. Ariella
    October 25, 2010

    As you say, Laurie, “I'm wondering if it will have an impact on brand loyalty and sales. Consumers generally look for “green” electronics, companies that take recycling and the environment seriously.”  I'm sure that some people would choose to buy the greener product.  But I don't think it will be so marked as to seriously make the manufacturers change their practices.  While people are willing to pay lip service to the value of green, not as many are willing to put their money where their mouth is. That goes for consumers, as well as producers.  If the televisions that are not green offer the same quality product for a cheaper price, my guess is that the majority of consumers will opt for it.  If both products are at the same price point, then some — though not all — would choose the greener product. But they are just as likely to be swayed by some promotion or ad that convinces them to buy one over the other because it has some distinguishing feature that makes them feel they are getting better value.  Environmental impact could be that feature, but there are many other selling points, as well. It is not likely that manufacturers will be swayed into truly environmentally conscious practices that cost them money unless they see tangible ROI in increased sales.  And I don't think that will happen in a marked fashion. 

  3. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 25, 2010

    Great blog as always. Interesting–I was just reading Newsweek's10/25/2010 issue on the greenest companies in the world. Rankings considered recycling programs as part of the criteria. Dell also ranked No. 1 on Newsweek's list for U.S. companies. IBM ranked first in the global rankings. see greenrankings.newsweek.com for more info

  4. Barbara Jorgensen
    October 25, 2010

    Just an interesting aside: Newsweek's article on the greenest companies in the world opened with Timberland deciding what company would supply its corporate computers. They chose Dell because of Dell's evvironmental stewardship practices. If more companies went this way, we'd see a marked increase in pressure to go green. As much as consumers can vote with their pocketbook, it's corporate voters such as Timberland that really get companies' attention.

  5. Laurie Sullivan
    October 25, 2010

    I think for the most part, Ariella, you are correct. Most people will not put their money where their mouth is. Those in California with the financial stability to be a bit more picky might. I thought about purchasing a new flat screen TV recently, so I went into Best Buy to look around at my options.

    While waiting for a sales person to help me, I overheard a couple talking about environmental issues and recycling. Now I realize I overheard a private conversation, and I didn't hear the entire conversation, but the thought remains on the mind of consumers, which I believe in the long run it could change our culture and the way people view manufacturers based on their environmental policies.

    Companies making electronic products will find a way to produce it greener for less money. I'm just not sure if they'll pass that savings on to the consumer. 

    Laurie 

  6. Laurie Sullivan
    October 25, 2010

    Hello Maou_Villaflores:

    Yes, I agree, this report is very alarming and disappointing, especially because these companies have been looking at recycling options for nearly 10 years. You would think they had their ducks in a row. Unfortunately, many don't.

    When I wrote about electronics distribution for EBN in the early 2000s companies designed products from birth to death and beyond. I'm betting they still do.

    Avent and Arrow, or Intel, Altera and Xilinx chime in? Do companies still design in end of life strategies to new product launches?

    Laurie

  7. Laurie Sullivan
    October 25, 2010

    Thanks Barbara for taking the time to include the link and information to the Newsweek article. Great information!

    Laurie

  8. DataCrunch
    October 25, 2010

    Laurie, this is a very interesting post.  I would like to bring your attention to a company called RecycleBank ( http://www.recyclebank.com ), which I am very familiar with.  They provide a rewards system for neighborhood residents to earn points through recycling their unwanted electronics.  They already have many partners on board, in which residents can redeem their points towards product purchases.  So where manufacturers fall short, consumers may have the power to pick up the pieces and earn rewards for doing so.  When I first came across this company over a year ago, I thought the idea was ingenious and watching them grow over the past year neighborhood by neighborhood, it seems many others do as well. 

  9. bolaji ojo
    October 25, 2010

    Dave, You threw in the other missing but very significant element. We can all blame corporations for not doing enough and expect them to do more but consumers have to be actively involved even if all they have to do is take old electronic equipment to pre-selected dumpsites meant solely for such goods. It will go a long way towards achieving the goals of reducing the impact of such equipment on the environment. Notably, the consumer would have to be involved even when governments pin the responsibility on businesses, after all, we most likely won't welcome corporations sending an army of Green soldiers into our houses.

  10. Anna Young
    October 25, 2010

    This subject is not going away no matter how much companies want to hide their heads in the sand. The report is bad news for all the companies that failed to get passing grade. They are going to get hammered not just by customers but also by investors. The last thing a company, any company wants, is bad press and all these companies are getting some nasty coverage right now.

    On the other hand the companies that got a good rating can use this to buttress their leading position in the market. The PR issue can be turned around for both parties as easily. The ones that are leading in recycling programs today need to keep it up otherwise they'll be staring at a failing grade one year from now.

  11. maou_villaflores
    October 31, 2010

    Anna I don't think investors for the following companies will worry too much about this news. As long they have a good ROI thats all that matters for them for now . In the current market trend consumer supports products which pro-environment. Electronic companies should focus on how to resolve this issue by working with different environmental organizations. These companies can also invest on research for the materials and after product life program to improve their image to the consumers.

  12. maou_villaflores
    October 31, 2010

    Barbara, I read that article too. The criteria used for the ranking are the following:

    Environmental Impact Score – 45 percent

    Green Policies Score          –  45 percent

    Reputation                         – 10 percent

    Might be recycling program is not considered for the green ranking by Newsweek.Ironic just a thought.

  13. Susan Fourtané
    November 10, 2010

    Dave, 

    Thanks for sharing the Recycle Bank link. This seems to be a very interesting and positive initiative. I see it's only available in the US and the UK. I am wondering if they are planning to make it more global. 

    -Susan

  14. Susan Fourtané
    November 10, 2010

    Hi, Laurie Interesting article. I would have imagined that with the importance many consumers are giving to recycling and protecting the electronics companies would have ranked better. -Susan

  15. DataCrunch
    November 11, 2010

    Hi Susan, I am sure that Recycle Bank’s long term strategy is to rollout their program to more locations worldwide, but I think in the short term they will be busy trying to bring on more municipalities in the US and the UK.  This I am sure will keep them busy for a while.

  16. Susan Fourtané
    November 22, 2010

    Hi, Dave 

    It makes sense to start with two big markets and expand later on. The public's participation is also essential in this kind of initiative as well as its promotion. 

    -Susan

     

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