We’ve been covering a lot of energy efficiency issues in this green tech blog, but a truly green electronic product would also be made without hazardous materials and chemicals such as lead, beryllium, PVC (polyvinyl chloride), BFRs (brominated fire retardants) and other nasty things. And it would be recyclable. Even better, the company that makes the product would take it back and pay for the recycling.
All this is starting to happen—to varying degrees—as consumer electronics companies see the need to produce more ecologically friendly products and reduce waste streams, where some of these toxic substances leach out.
But how can you tell if a company’s claims of being green and environmentally conscious are true? And how green are they? Are they really living up to the promise of a cleaner tomorrow, or just throwing us a few eco-happy bones to pick at? It’s hard to tell.
A good place to research this is Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics. Yes, I can feel the imminent thunder of the anti-green bloggers as they prepare their keyboard charges. But no matter what you think of the environmental group’s tactics, at least someone is holding big consumer electronics manufacturers’ feet to the fire.
The guide focuses largely on computer makers, but its latest ratings also included some TV and video game player manufacturers. Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Sony, Dell and Lenovo scored the highest, while survey newcomers Sharp, Microsoft, Philips and Nintendo scored the worst.
The quarterly ratings are based on two main criteria: the company’s commitment to clean up its products by eliminating hazardous substances, and to take back and recycle products responsibly when they become obsolete. Greenpeace also deducts points if it finds that companies have not followed their published environmental guidelines.
Sony Ericcson scored highly by improving on its reporting of quantities of old mobile phones being recycled, for example, while some of the lower-ranked companies scored poorly on recycling issues and by not offering products free of PVC and BFRs.
You can review the performance of the companies at the site as well, and this is most helpful to get a fairly detailed overview of what each company is and isn’t doing to be environmentally responsible. If you’re shopping for green electronics, this is a great place compare brands. It isn’t a product guide, so don’t look for specifics on this item or that, though you’ll find some products cited in the report on each company.
The conclusion? Some progress is being made by consumer electronics manufacturers, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.
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Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates