Consumer electronics majors rank low on eco-friendliness, says Greenpeace

Latest Guide to Greener Electronics ranks the industry as D for environmental concerns

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Consumer electronics majors rank low on eco-friendliness, says Greenpeace IT manufacturers need to do more to make products and production processes more environment friendly.
By  Mark Sutton Published  October 17, 2017

The consumer electronics industry has a long way to go to improve the eco-credentials of its manufacturing processes, according to Greenpeace USA.

The environmental campaign group has just released its 2017 Guide to Greener Electronics, which assesses the leading companies in ICT manufacturing, and found that the industry as a whole only rates as a ‘D+'.

The report, now in its 19th edition, evaluates companies based on their transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts in three critical areas: reduction of greenhouse gases through renewable energy; use of recycled materials; and elimination of hazardous chemicals.

Apple ranked ‘B-‘, topped only by Dutch manufacturer Fairphone which scored ‘B', while Dell, HP, Lenovo and Microsoft were all in the ‘C' band. The other companies on the list of 17, including market leader Samsung, all ranked as ‘D' grade or worse

"Tech companies claim to be at the forefront of innovation, but their supply chains are stuck in the Industrial Age. We know they can change. Rather than fueling climate change, IT companies need to show the way forward, just like Google and Apple have done with data centers run on renewables," said Gary Cook, Senior IT Campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

Greenpeace USA said that as demand for consumer devices continues to grow, with nearly two billion devices sold in 2016 alone, consumer electronics companies continue to use up finite resources and power their manufacturing plants with non-renewable energy.

The sector also has a problem with electronics waste, as companies continue to make devices which have deliberately short lifespans. The UN has estimated that e-waste globally will surpass 65 million tons in 2017--enough to bury San Francisco to 14 feet.

Greenpeace highlighted Samsung's reliance on fossil fuels for manufacturing as an ongoing issue for the largest manufacturer of smartphones and one of the largest suppliers of displays. The company used more than 16,000 GWh of energy in 2016, with just 1% coming from renewables.

The report notes that up to 80% of the carbon footprint of electronic devices occurs during manufacturing, but while some IT players have committed to using renewable energy for their data centres, manufacturing lags behind and still predominantly uses ‘dirty' energy in the production of devices. Apple is the only company thus far that has committed to 100% renewable power for its supply chain.

Many of the companies in the report are guilty of planned obsolescence in their product design, and of producing devices that are difficult to repair or upgrade, including Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung, Greenpeace said.

Manufacturers also lack transparency in their supply chain, publishing little information on their suppliers, keeping their environmental footprint of their supply chain hidden from view. Manufacturers also fail to provide transparency into their use of hazardous chemicals in the manufacturing process.

"It is clear the impacts of the linear take-make-waste business model employed by device manufacturers extend beyond the concerns of e-waste. We need to see greater ambition, more transparency, and follow-through from companies to address the environmental impacts of their enormous supply chains. The current model cannot be maintained," said Cook.

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