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    Judging the Electronic Firms Revisited

    By Keith R | September 20, 2006

    Topics: Corporate Social Responsibility, Electronic/Electrical Equipment, Environmental Protection, Hazardous Substances, Waste & Recycling | No Comments »

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    Since I wrote my prior Temas blog entry on the Greenpeace “report card” on “greener electronics,” I have read a number of interesting reviews of the GP report written by other blogs. Two examples I suggest reading: Treehugger’s analysis and the debate in Dan Dilger’s “Roughly Drafted” blog on all things Apple.

    Reading these have gotten me thinking further about the report and the issues it raises. I’d like to put down here a few of the thoughts that have resulted.

    In the meantime, however, on Monday (18th Sept.) Greenpeace released a new report, this one on the results of its tests on laptops, looking for hazardous substances. This new report is also problematic — in my view as much for Greenpeace as it is for the five firms covered by the report. I’ll offer a few observations about this one as well.

    Greenpeace's More Reservations/Questions About the “Greener Electronics” Report

    Greenpeace report New Greenpeace Report Takes a More Concrete Looks at Toxics in Computers

    On Monday, 18 Sept. 2006, Greenpeace released a new report, “Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed.” You can download and read the report in PDF format at this link.

    The report is the result of tests done at Greenpeace’s behest on laptops made by five top manufacturers (Acer, Apple, Dell, HP, Sony) bought in Denmark and the UK last March. The laptops were given to a Danish testing lab (Eurofins Environmental A/S), which disassembled them and tested about 40 of the materials and components of each for specific chemicals, namely the chemicals controlled under the EU’s RoHS Directive, plus some Greenpeace selected

    What did they find? Not the sensational discoveries they evidently expected, and contrary to some of their “findings” in the “Greener Electronics” report. Despite the headlines-grabbing report title and press release headers (“Toxic Chemicals in Computers Exposed” “HP and Apple’s Toxic Laptops Exposed” “Chemical Lies?” and “Rotten Apples”), the actual findings found little to get excited about:

    Perhaps trying to find something to make sensational headlines out of, Greenpeace expressed shock that HP still had decaBDE (a chemical HP claims to have phased out already) and lead solder in its laptop. Although they used the header “Chemical Lies?” in their press release, Greenpeace waffled between giving HP the benefit of the doubt (“Either HP is lying or HP needs to ask its suppliers some tough questions”) and choosing to believe the worst — they downgraded HP in their scorecard.

    They also tried to play up the presence of bromine compounds in the laptops, even though they could not tie it directly to the brominated fire retardants they have said are of greatest concern. “At the product’s end of life, some disposal or recycling operations (e.g incineration, smelting and open burning) can potentially release the bromine in hazardous forms, including hydrogen bromide and brominated dioxins.” Possible, yes. A probable and prevalent risk, dubious. Greenpeace seems to be grasping at straws here.

    A Start, But a Flawed Start

    This analysis was an initial attempt to go beyond simple reliance on official company information (a major vulnerability in the “Greener Electronics” report) and generate some hard, real market conditions data. In that respect, it might be considered a (baby) step forward. And with this report and its reaction (downgrading HP), Greenpeace has demonstrated that it meant what it said previously about penalizing companies if they found that real market data did not match corporate claims. Interesting, however, that they did not reward Acer or Apple for the findings. Hmmmm….

    That said, if Greenpeace intends to continue trying to hold the electronics firms accountable and if they care at all about their credibility, they’ll have to get their act together and do far better than this toxics report. It is flawed on several counts:

    This is not the way for Greenpeace to make its case. They cannot continue to do sloppy, poorly conceived or poorly executed reports, be inconsistent in the application of their stated criteria and non-transparent about key criteria and parameters — not if they hope to prevail in either changing industry behavior or prompting regulatory actions that force the same ends. If they continue in this manner they may score media points in the early going, but will lose ground if the Electronics Industry Alliance (EIA) and its industry allies ever mount a well, conceived, well-documented, assertive counter-campaign.

    — Keith R

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