When people think about which products have the biggest impact on the planet, they likely think of large machines and cars. However, they really should be thinking about electronics, and so should the manufacturers who are making those electronics. It turns out that some are doing a good job but many have not earned top marks in terms of environmental efforts.
(Photo courtesy: Alan Levine/Flickr)
That’s Greenpeace’s contention in adopting Re-Think IT as the name of its “campaign to challenge the IT sector to take responsibility for its rapidly growing footprint on the planet.” Greenpeace points out that the devices we think of as defining are modern age often are produced through “supply chain and manufacturing processes” that are no better than those applied in the Victorian period.
Accordingly, it is issuing a challenge to that industry to live up to its progressive image in improving the production and use of electronic components. That extends to containing “the ever-increasing consumption of the planet’s finite resources and reliance on fossil fuels” and to promoting “a circular and renewably powered business model that other sectors can follow.”
In order to give credit to those who do and point out the shortcomings of those who do not, Greenpeace has been releasing annual reports on major electronic companies. It just released its Guide to Greener Electronics 2017, which looks at 17 companies, including the top names in electronics like Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Google.
The three key categories at the core of the rankings are:
- Energy: Reduction of greenhouse gases through efficiency and renewable energy
- Resource Consumption: sustainable design and use of recycled materials
- Chemicals: Elimination of hazardous chemicals from both the product itself and manufacturing
Companies can earn or lose points for advocacy, as the report explains. That includes pushing for green policies, for utilities to put more into renewables, and for companies in their supply chain to opt for greener energy sources, as well as for “greater transparency on chemical use, hazardous chemical elimination and substitution at all levels of government and within the sector.” Advocating for recycling or as it called it, a push to “support the reduction of virgin material resources,” as well as and incentives for repairable designs also went into account.
Conversely, there is a penalty in the ranking assigned to those countering that form of progress. That include any who “have lobbied against renewable energy or climate policies” or “against stronger standards or legislation to eliminate the use of hazardous” or “against repair or recycling legislation or standards” within “the past 18 months, either directly or through their membership in an industry association.”
The particular formula breakdown is given as follows: “Transparency (30%), Commitment (30%), Performance (30%), and Advocacy (10%).” On this basis, a holistic grade is assigned to each company. None of them earned an overall A or even a B+.
For the overall ranking, Fairphone got the top spot, which is not surprising given the company’s mission (see Mapping Out a Better Electronics Supply Chain). Its overall score is B. Second place goes to the company that typically holds first place in people’s minds: Apple. Its overall score is B-. The next four companies, which include, Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Microsoft all rank at C-level. The D level group includes seven companies: Acer, LG, Sony, Google, Huawei, Asus, and Samsung. The remaining three companies, including the mighty Amazon, all earned a grade of F.
The grades shift a bit for specific categories as in the case of Renewable Energy and Climate Change. Here, Apple gets rewarded for its much publicized initiatives, earning the top slot with a grade of A-. Both HP and Fairphone earn a B. In this category, Amazon moves up to D and Google to a C-.
Grades shift yet again for Sustainable Design & Resource Reduction. Here Fairphone take the top slot with an A-, followed by Dell and HP with a B-. Apple is bumped all the way down to a C, which classes it along with Lenovo, Acer, LG, and Sony. The reason for that downgrade is likely the fact that Apple products are not associated with longevity or ease of repair; rather they seem designed to break in time for the next upgrade. Amazon just escapes the F grade with a D-.
Amazon picks up another F grade for the Hazardous Chemical Elimination: Products & Supply Chain category. Top grade there is a B for Apple, followed by a B-for Fairphone. Dell, HP, Microsoft and Google all fall into C level.
Notably, the three companies that land up on the F-list across categories are the ones that Greenpeace said “declined to share or discuss information on their environmental performance.” Those are Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi. The other 14 companies tended to rank higher than these even if they did sometimes shift all the way down to an F grade.
It’s possible that cooperation boosts transparency scores, which is one of the components of the ranking, or that in the absence of any information beyond what is publicly available, Greenpeace was inclined to assume the worst. In any case, the object lesson here for companies who are concerned about their reputations is that it pays to get on board.