Companies fail to guide buyers to ‘green’ gadgets

A Greenpeace environmental assessment of consumer electronics has unearthed some positive trends. But the group says more can be done to improve and promote products’ environmental credentials.

Consumer electronics now contain fewer hazardous substances and are more energy efficient, but more must be done to help buyers identify ‘greener’ products and use them efficiently, according to a Greenpeace report. The green pressure group also urges manufacturers to carry out life-cycle assessments of products to tackle environmental impacts more comprehensively.

In its assessment of consumer electronics, Greenpeace considered 50 products including televisions, mobile phones, personal digital assistants, computer monitors, and desktop and notebook computers.

The products were made by 15 firms, including Dell, Fujitsu Siemens, Nokia, Panasonic and Sony, which were invited to submit their greenest products. Apple, Microsoft, Nintendo, Philips, Asus and Palm refused to take part.

Greenpeace marked each product against a range of criteria in five broad categories: energy efficiency, use of hazardous chemicals, product longevity, production impacts and "unique innovation", which included use of recycled materials, take-back schemes and marketing strategies.

No one product excelled in all of the areas analysed but the group reports that progress is being made in improving environmental performance.

Greenpeace’s international chemicals campaigner Casey Harrell said that while gadgets scored higher than last year and scores were closer together within each product category, consumers were still being "forced to choose between gadgets that are green in some areas but grey in another".

However, the report said the technology being used by market leaders indicated this need not be the case. If manufacturers combined best green practice, much greener products could already be available.

More needs to be done to improve the visibility of ‘green’ products to consumers. While some companies have sections on their websites listing greener products, they are still not prominent enough, Greenpeace found.

And few firms were integrating a product’s environmental attributes in marketing campaigns. While computer manufacturers are generally good at providing in-use data and comparisons for their products, makers of monitors and televisions need to make this a higher priority, Greenpeace says.

Information on how to use their products most efficiently was also lacking. The survey found "no initiatives reaching very far in providing this information… and one can reasonably expect much more from companies who publicly express their concerns and communicate their efforts about climate change".

Availability of data on operational impacts, such as the energy needed to make the product and special innovations that reduce its environmental impacts, was also found to be lacking.

On a more positive note, companies had made progress in phasing out hazardous substances. The use of exemptions under the restriction of certain hazardous substances Directive had reduced since the last review. The survey also found that fewer manufacturers are using PVC and brominated flame retardants.

On energy efficiency, Greenpeace reports a "technological jump", in part because it "has been otherwise ignored for years". It found Energy Star standards can be surpassed and that products marketed since the survey are comfortably beating them.

Indeed, the US Environmental Protection Agency has adopted a new approach to keep pace with market developments, where tighter Energy Star 5.0 standards will be launched once a quarter of products comply with the existing Energy Star 4.0 standards.

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