News Analysis

Greenpeace points finger at big IT firms

Too many big companies have been slow to do their bit to tackle the world's environmental problems. And IT companies are not exempt, say environmental campaigners.

Greenpeace International claims that many IT firms have not taken the environment as seriously as they should and have been slow in making real changes to their products.

In its latest research the campaigning group has ranked three of the world's biggest PC makers - Hewlett-Packard, Dell and Lenovo - at the bottom of its league table of 18 green electronics suppliers.

Greenpeace's latest ranking of technology companies claims these firms have been slow to remove toxic chemicals from their products - despite other manufacturers, such as Apple, improving their green performance.

Greenpeace uses a list of 15 criteria to rank companies, from how easy it is to recycle their products to how much energy they use.

However, Dell, HP and Lenovo say that toxic chemicals are the only materials they can viably use in their computers.

Dell told Computer Weekly that it is unable to use alternatives and has adjusted its timetable for removing toxic chemicals accordingly. The company says it is taking big strides towards becoming more environmentally friendly and it does offer some toxic chemical-free products. HP, which does not offer any alternative products, says it is continuing to develop new environmental programmes and that is has been a "leader in environmental responsibility for decades".

Two chemicals, present in millions of computers, pose big problems for the environment. Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is the single most environmentally damaging of all plastics when it is disposed of, forming cancer-causing carcinogens when burnt.

It contaminates humans and the environment throughout its lifecycle. Brominated flame retardents (BFRs) are also toxic and can be released from products during use, building up in animals and humans.

So while the dumping of electronic waste in Asia and Africa should be a priority for the technology industry, it is not just those who deal with the waste who are affected - it's computer users as well.

Greenpeace says there are alternatives to these substances available. It points to Apple, which has almost completely removed the toxic materials from its new products. Tom Dowdall, toxic technology campaign co-ordinator, says suppliers of PC components are waiting for manufacturers to say the word.

"We talk to suppliers who say they are actually waiting for the big orders for alternative materials to come in," he says. "If these companies placed big orders, it would drive the price of the alternatives down."

Dowdall says Apple has managed to remove the toxic materials while simultaneously lowering the price of its products, and any price increases as a result of the initial investment are likely to be no more than $10.

The real problem, he says, is that some companies have simply not prioritised environmental concerns. To help move green issues up the agenda, Greenpeace is calling for IT managers in both the public and private sectors to put pressure on their suppliers to provide greener products.

"Ask them for more progressive environmental policies," he says. "That is one way that the companies will realise that the marketplace is demanding change."

Dell, HP and Lenovo are not the only big names to perform poorly in Greenpeace's ranking. Government supplier Fujitsu was second from bottom, and Microsoft was not far behind.

An HP spokesperson said, "For decades HP has been a leader in environmental responsibility and has adopted practices in product development, operations and supply chain that are transparent and help to reduce its environmental impact."

Dell says its green credentials are good, and points to its commitment to reduce its carbon emissions by 40% by 2015.

It says, "We remain committed to proactively eliminating environmentally sensitive substances from our products, and we are working closely with our suppliers to eliminate these chemicals from our products. This commitment is genuine."

Lenovo made no comment.


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