SAN FRANCISCO – Awareness of green electronics is growing, but compliance is not.
That’s according to Greenpeace USA’s latest Guide to Greener Electronics, the organization’s ranking of global consumer electronics companies on sustainable manufacturing and design of IT products.
The average grade across the 17 companies evaluated in the guide was a D+, demonstrating the sector has work to do to resolve supply chain impacts and improve product design. Fairphone, based in the Netherlands, scored best overall with a B, followed by Apple with a B-. Dell and HP followed Apple and Fairphone with a C+, while eleven companies, including Samsung, Huawei and Amazon, fell in the D and F range.
Companies were evaluated 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.
"Tech companies claim to be at the forefront of innovation, but their supply chains are stuck in the Industrial Age,” said Gary Cook, senior IT campaigner at Greenpeace USA. “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.”
Despite its central position as both the largest manufacturer of smartphones and one of the largest suppliers of displays, Samsung's manufacturing system relies heavily on fossil fuels. The company used more than 16,000GWh of energy in 2016, with 1% coming from renewables, according to Greenpeace USA.
Demand for consumer electronics continues to climb, with nearly two billion devices sold in 2016. This drives demand for both finite mined materials and dirty energy. Meanwhile, e-waste is growing, due in part to the short lifespans of devices. The UN has estimated e-waste globally will surpass 65 million tons in 2017.
Up to 80% of the carbon footprint of electronic devices occurs during manufacturing. While Google, Apple and other Internet companies are making progress transitioning their data centers to renewable energy, nearly all of the companies in the guide have yet to address the rapidly growing carbon footprint and dependence on dirty energy in their supply chains, says Greenpeace USA. Apple is the only company thus far that has committed to 100% renewable power for its supply chain.
Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung are among the companies moving in the wrong direction on sustainable product design. Many of their latest products are difficult to repair or upgrade. HP, Dell, and Fairphone are the notable exceptions to this trend, producing a growing number of products that are repairable and upgradable.
Despite representing the majority of the environmental footprint for most electronic manufacturers, most companies publish little information on their suppliers, keeping their environmental footprint of their supply chain hidden from view. Of the 17 companies evaluated, less than one third publishes a basic list of suppliers.
Apple, Dell, Google, HP, and Microsoft are the only companies in the guide that publish their list of substances that must be restricted in the manufacturing of their devices, including known hazards benzene, n-hexane, and toluene.
"It is clear the impacts of the linear take-make-waste business model employed by device manufacturers extend beyond the concerns of e-waste,” said Cook. “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."
Greenpeace challenges the IT sector to shift their supply chains to be renewably powered; reduce the cycle of constant consumption of more minerals and other resources by designing long-lasting products that use more recycled materials, and detox products and the supply chain by finding alternatives to hazardous chemicals.