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The Greening of CE?
How green is green in our favorite electronics?
Panasonic Giving Back
October 21, 2008 by Steven Castle

Is the consumer electronics industry really getting green? The Consumer Electronics Association says so in its new report, Environmental Sustainability and Innovation in the Consumer Electronics Industry, which takes some favorable (read: green) snapshots of some of the top consumer electronics manufacturers.

The report, written by TFI Environment, looks at progress being made in eco-design, energy efficiency, green facilities and manufacturing, clean delivery processes, and giving back. “In examining environmental data from 20 of the largest consumer electronics companies by market share, we found that most were looking for ways to reduce waste, conserve resources and shrink product size,” the report states.

In electricity use alone, companies that reduced their usage did so by 5-percent to 25-percent over the last three years (per million in revenue dollars), saving 223,000 tons of carbon from entering the atmosphere, or the equivalent of taking 51,000 cars off the road for a year.

The report also states that seven of 10 major companies that have tracked their carbon emissions during the last three years have lowered their emissions (per million dollars), and four of the 10 emitted less carbon even while the company grew.

Also according to the report, at least half the companies interviewed were diverting 80-percent or more of their unusable materials from landfills and some diverted as much as 98-percent. Some 69-percent of respondents are already recycling, and 38-percent are reusing some form of the electronics products they make or use.

Electronics manufacturers lauded for their sustainable work include Epson for eco-design; Nokia for its reduction of hazardous waste in products, energy efficient chargers, and a carbon offset program; Lenovo for using recycled materials and energy-efficient flat-panel TVs; Philips for eco-design; Intel for water conservation and energy-efficient microprocessors and data centers; Panasonic for its energy-efficient plasma screens; NEC for reducing production waste; Dell for its green production facilities; Best Buy for its responsible take-back recycling program; Cisco for clean product delivery; HP for recycling and giving back; and custom electronics installer Hometech for its recycling efforts.

These companies deserve accolades for their environmentally friendly practices and energy-efficient products. We’re certainly seeing some ecological progress in consumer electronics, and we’re see more and more energy-efficient and sustainable products becoming available. However, the report’s data is vague and suspiciously short on details. For instance, what about the companies that aren’t reducing their electricity usage? What about the six out of 10 companies that aren’t emitting less carbon as they grow? What about all of the electronics companies that aren’t recycling? True, the 20 companies mentioned in the report make about half of the consumer electronics in the global marketplace. But what about the other half? How about a comprehensive report covering the entire consumer electronics industry—or at least all CEA member companies—and not just the eco-minded?

The report’s section on energy-efficient products is so light on substance, it leaves one wondering if there really are energy efficient electronics besides Panasonic’s energy-efficient plasma TVs. To be fair, Best Buy’s sales of Energy Star-rated products is cited. “In 2007, Best Buy sold seven million units of Energy Star products,” the report states. “According to EPA calculations, consumers saved $100 million on their utility bills with these products, and the atmosphere avoided 1.4 billion pounds of carbon emissions—the equivalent of removing 128,000 cars from the road.”

That’s fantastic, but how many consumer electronics products are really energy efficient? What percentage of electronics available today does that make up? What are the outlooks for progress in sustainable, efficient electronics? Imagine what can be done when the rest of the electronics industry hops aboard the greenwagon and the CEA can hype a more comprehensive report on how green its members really are.

Yes, green progress is being made in the CE industry, and I’m being a bit hard on the CEA for focusing exclusively on the “good green guys” and not taking a cold, hard look at the entire industry. The top 20 companies are certainly doing a pretty good job, but it’s obvious that there’s still a lot of work to be done in making consumer electronics greener—even among these top green guns.

As the CEA’s report says, “All companies [in the report] have programs underway to minimize resource and chemical use—this is simply good business, for such practices save money.” Agreed, but what about all the other companies? What are they doing to be greener?

Good work for now on the greening of consumer electronics, but I’ll look forward to future green reports from the CEA, when the whole industry is thinking this way.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
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.

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