Going Greener Electronics With Greenpeace: A Toxic Fireside Chat

With Earth Day just around the corner, we are seeing a lot of announcements about “green technology does good for the Earth this” and “green electronics rock your world because.” Many of the products in these announcements tend to be only partially green, which is something that the consumer electronics industry is addressing on a company by company basis – with very mixed results.

One organization which constantly presses the manufacturers of your favorite gadgets and gear to be more environmentally sustainable is Greenpeace. The well regarded, if not occasionally controversial, non-profit in recent times has begun publishing several times a year what it calls the “Guide to Greener Electronics.” The last edition, published in January on the eve of the annual Consumer Electronics Show, found Nokia to be the greenest of the manufacturers considered and Nintendo to be the worst offender. What exactly goes into developing this guide? We found out via this interview with Greenpeace global electronics team member Casey Harrell:

image via Greenpeace

EarthTechling: What is the Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics?

Casey Harrell: The Guide to Greener Electronics is one of more well known campaign tools.  Beginning in the summer of 2006, we have release the Guide quarterly, measuring manufacturers on a host of criteria [opens as PDF]. The companies in our guide are global leaders (in terms of market share) in TV, PC, console, mobile and smart phone sales.

ET: Why did Greenpeace decide to develop such a guide?

Harrell: Consumers around the globe have stated repeatedly that they want greener electronics (you know you have market saturation when the consumer electronics trade associations are saying this), but the environmental reality was that more and more toxic products was piling up in dumping grounds in Asia, Latin America and Africa as e-waste — the world’s largest source of hazardous waste.  Our feeling was that information on what was a holistically greener company (or greener product) wasn’t making it into the marketplace.  We felt there was a need to move the conversation away from whether the user manual was printed on recycled paper (an improvement but not the most critical footprint issue of an electronic product) and towards weightier issues like whether companies would support individual financial responsibility laws and policies — a fancy terms that we learned when we were kids (if you make a mess, you are responsible for cleaning it up).  When we began our Guide, very few companies supported to these laws, now almost all the companies we work with do.

In short, we needed to re-frame the conversation on what was truly the greener behavior on the most critical environmental footprint criteria.  We saw that there was differentiation between many of these brands, and we wanted to give consumers this information in an easily presentable format, so they can make informed decisions about the consumer electronics they buy.

I am the editor-in-chief and founder for EarthTechling. This site is my desire to bring the world of green technology to consumers in a timely and informative matter. Prior to this my previous ventures have included a strong freelance writing career and time spent at Silicon Valley start ups.