Sharp becomes first firm to get TV eco-label

Sharp, the Japanese electronics giant, has become the first company to be awarded the EU eco-label for televisions. Sony and Philips, however, are ignoring the independently verified label in favour of developing their own, self-verified labelling schemes for a range of products.

Applicants for government-backed eco-labelling schemes, such as the EU flower label, have been relatively few because most companies fear consumers will decide that products without the label are inferior.

Instead, sectors such as the consumer electronics industry prefer "environmental product declarations", which display information according to the company or sector's own format. They can be applied to any product regardless of how well it performs.

Sharp's decision, announced in September, is therefore a break with tradition for an electronics company. The label has been awarded to its latest range of flat screen TVs with liquid crystal display technology. The company has also applied for the label for a similar range of widescreen televisions.

To get the eco-label, Sharp had to meet criteria on energy efficiency, avoidance of hazardous substances, recyclability and refurbishment (ENDS Report 327, p 38 ).

On top of such benefits, Sharp claims the televisions have a service life of more than 60,000 hours - considerably greater than the 12,000-hour life of an average plasma screen TV.

The company's decision is based on its view of how product labelling will develop over the longer term. "To be brutally honest, the marketplace is decided on price and design," said marketing manager Mike Gabriel. "All surveys show the environment is a low concern. But the company has a genuine desire to improve its environmental credentials - it will be an issue in the future - and this is the first manifestation of that."

Sharp's approach in Europe marks a different approach to that practised in Japan by its parent company.

In Japan, the company has awarded its own "green seal" label since 1998 to products that "offer a particularly high level of environmental performance" by meeting four rather vague criteria. These include "low power consumption compared to previous models" and the "use of lead-free solder in more than one circuit board".

Such products must also meet 70% of a more detailed set of criteria related to greenhouse gas emissions, resource use and the presence of chemicals.

Last year the company launched its "super green" label for products that meet 90% of the detailed criteria, as well as the general criteria. To date it has 188 green seal and six super green products - accounting for 74% and 6% of net sales, respectively.

However, Sharp believes such schemes are inappropriate for the European market. "What goes on in Japan is completely separate to here," said Mr Gabriel. "Here we're more cautious about making claims for our products, as you need third party verification to be taken seriously."

Such views are not shared by some other electronics companies. Both Sony and Philips, for example, are using their own labelling schemes in Europe.

Philips' "green flagship" mark, awarded to products meeting environmental criteria based on areas such as weight, absence of hazardous substances and energy efficiency, was featured on 21 new products in 2004 (ENDS Report 350, p 34 ).

Sony's "eco-info" logo has recently seen its presence in Europe increased. The logo is part of Sony's environmental product declaration. It is used to draw the consumer's eye to a list of the product's environmental benefits, such as avoidance of hazardous substances, reduced energy consumption and use of recycled materials.

Just as with Sharp, the mark has been produced to ensure Sony can differentiate itself from other manufacturers. According to environmental adviser Bernd Ostgathe, traditional eco-labels are not able to do this.

"There are a lot of eco-labels around, but they don't tell you the criteria behind them," he said. "A customer can't find out the benefits of a product just by looking at them, but with the eco-info mark they get the concrete facts."

Mr Ostgathe admitted, however, that Sony has only had feedback about the label for small products, such as digital cameras, which are displayed within their packaging. Discussions with retailers about using it on "display cards" next to larger products drew a negative response.

Because of this, Sony's television division has not used the mark on its boxes. "We haven't pushed the mark on televisions, because customers don't see the box or manual when they buy a TV," said Peter Evans, senior environment manager for Sony's European visual products division. "We haven't used stickers on TVs either because consumers hate them."

The television division has also had a "problem" with the label because it is in English and the company is making televisions for the whole of Europe.

However, Mr Ostgathe insisted that the label is valuable to Sony because it will allow the firm to "adapt easily" if environmental concerns become more prominent. He said that Sony is aiming to create an online database of products' environmental criteria for European consumers, similar to the one used for the Japanese market.

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