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Who Made the Grade in Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics?

The Guide to Greener Electronics, published by Greenpeace USA, provides an analysis of what 17 of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies are doing to address their environmental impacts.

Washington-based environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has published its report, Guide to Greener Electronics, a report card ranking the top 17 electronics manufacturers based on their energy use, resource consumption and the elimination of hazardous chemicals from products and manufacturing.

According to the report, Fairphone and Apple received the highest marks, scoring a B and B-, respectively. Greenpeace reported that Amazon, Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi were given failing grades overall.

The Guide to Greener Electronics, published by Greenpeace USA, provides an analysis of what 17 of the world’s leading consumer electronics companies are doing to address their environmental impacts. Grades also are given in various categories where Greenpeace thinks work still needs to be done.

From 2006 to 2012, Greenpeace regularly published the guide, and as a result, the group says, saw steady progress from companies in eliminating hazardous materials from products and making them more energy-efficient.

“Now, it is clear the impacts of the linear take-make-waste business model employed by device manufacturers extend beyond the concerns of hazardous e-waste,” the group said in the report.

Fairphone, B: Fairphone, which currently sells its smartphones in the European market, operates at a much smaller scale than the rest of the companies in the guide, and has offered only two versions of a single product, the Fairphone smartphone. Greenpeace reports that the company set out to design a phone and a supply chain without exploiting its workers or the planet. Fairphone has made design breakthroughs making it easy to repair and upgrade its phones. The company also published a detailed life cycle analysis, setting a high bar on reporting the resource consumption involved in the production of its smartphone. Fairphone also recently published a detailed materiality assessment of its phones, including an analysis of the best recycling methods to recover the most material while generating the least amount of emissions. The company’s goals to improve product longevity and to improve both recycling of electronics and sourcing of recycled and closed-loop materials for its devices are central to its business model and differentiation in the marketplace, the report said.

Apple, B-:  In its analysis of Apple, Greenpeace lauds Apple CEO Tim Cook for putting protecting the environment in the forefront. Under Cook, Apple recognizes climate change is a real problem, and has publicly committed Apple to power its data centers and other operations with 100 percent renewable energy. Apple earned high marks for being the first company to commit to renewable energy for its entire supply chain and announced in April its long-term goal to transition the materials that go into its devices to come from 100 percent closed-loop sources, eliminating the need to rely on the mining of new minerals.

While Apple’s design engineers made it the first company to eliminate many hazardous chemicals from its devices, many of Apple’s latest devices are now designed in a way to make it much more difficult, if not impossible to repair or upgrade, and increasing the potential negative impacts of Apple’s products on the planet.

Amazon, F: In addition to its reputation as one of the world’s largest online retailers, through its Kindle e-readers and Fire tablets, Amazon is also the third-largest seller of tablet computers in the world. According to the report, Amazon fails in transparency in terms of its environmental performance, as it does not report the greenhouse gas footprint of its own operations. However, Amazon has begun to purchase renewable energy at significant scale in the United States, and is deploying solar on its distribution centers. Amazon also has emerged as a leader within the sector in pushing for stronger climate and renewable energy policy.

Oppo, F: Oppo, a subsidiary of BKK electronics, which owns Chinese Rival Vivo, is among the fastest-growing smartphone companies in the world, ranked fourth in global market share. Greenpeace reports Oppo is quickly emerging as a leader in sales, but is lagging in addressing its environmental responsibility and does not publish information regarding its environmental performance or its sustainability efforts.

Greenpeace has relaunched the guide, focusing on what it calls three critical impact areas tied to product design and responsible supply chain management across the electronics sector. In the 19th edition, released last week, each company was evaluated in three impact areas: energy use, resource consumption, and chemical elimination.

Energy includes the reduction of greenhouse gases through efficiency and renewable energy. Resource consumption considers the sustainable design and use of recycled materials, while the elimination of hazardous chemicals looks at removal of such chemicals from the product and from its manufacturing process.

Within each impact area, Greenpeace graded companies on transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts on the largest electronic device brands (smartphones, tablets, and personal computers) in East Asia, North America and Europe.

The report says, while the IT sector has changed the world in amazing ways, the business model that supports these devices remains largely dependent on a linear system of production requiring constant consumption of virgin inputs and sacrificing the health of workers and the environment.

“While there have been initial, but important, steps forward by a few major IT companies to reduce their environmental footprint, most brands continue to make product design and supply chain decisions that are increasing,” according to the report.

Greenpeace says brands can reduce the need for virgin materials by incorporating more recycled/secondary materials such plastic and metals and using as many closed-loop inputs in their products. They also must ensure their products are designed to allow for easy recycling after the product no longer functions. The report credited Fairphone for incorporating recycled tungsten, Dell for its use of closed-loop plastic collected from its take-back channel, and Apple for its recent commitment to “closing the loop” for its materials, starting with tin and aluminum.

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