The average grade of 17 leading consumer electronics companies evaluated by Greenpeace USA on sustainable manufacturing and design of IT products was a D+. Fairphone ranked the best overall with a B, followed by Apple with a B-, and Dell and HP both with a C+. The remaining manufacturers including Samsung, Huawei and Amazon scored in the D and F range.
The lack of sustainable strategies in the electronics supply chain becomes a big problem with billions of devices sold every year. This has a significant impact on consumption of resources, energy usage, and e-waste.
The 2017 Guide to Greener Electronics (the Guide) takes a look at three key areas of product design and responsible supply chain management:
- Energy: Reduction of greenhouse gases through efficiency and renewable energy
- Resource consumption: sustainable design and use of recycled materials
- Chemicals: Elimination of hazardous chemicals from both the product itself and manufacturing
Greenpeace evaluated the electronics companies based on their transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts in three areas: reduction of greenhouse gases through renewable energy; use of recycled materials, and elimination of hazardous chemicals.
"Tech companies claim to be at the forefront of innovation, but their supply chains are stuck in the Industrial Age. We know they can change. Rather than fueling climate change, IT companies need to show the way forward, just like Google and Apple have done with data centers run on renewables," said Gary Cook, senior IT campaigner at Greenpeace USA, in a statement.
Greenpeace reported that up to 80 percent of the carbon footprint of electronic devices happens during manufacturing. While the report found that some leading manufacturers are making headway in transitioning to renewable energy like Apple and Google, there are others like Samsung, which rely heavily on fossil fuels. Only one percent of Samsung’s energy consumption comes from renewables, according to Greenpeace.
Another finding indicates a lack of sustainable product design and “planned obsolescence as a design feature” at many of the companies evaluated. Some of the big players, including Apple, Microsoft and Samsung, make their products difficult to repair or upgrade, according to Greenpeace. The exceptions cited include HP, Dell and Fairphone.
Poor supply chain transparency was also found to be a problem among the leading companies. The evaluation found that a majority of the companies lack a view into the environmental footprint of their supply chains. Less than one-third of the companies publishes a basic list of suppliers.
In addition, many of the companies lack transparency and monitoring of workplace chemicals. “To protect worker health and safety, all companies need to identify and eliminate hazardous chemicals used in the production of their products, and improve worker health and safety due diligence,” said Greenpeace.
However, the evaluation found that Apple, Dell, Google, HP, and Microsoft publish their list of substances that must be restricted in the manufacturing of their devices (MRSL). These include known hazards such as benzene, n-hexane, and toluene.
Greenpeace said it is challenging the IT sector to:
- Shift their supply chains to be renewably powered;
- Reduce the cycle of constant consumption of more minerals and other resources by designing long lasting products that use more recycled materials, and;
- Detox their products and their supply chain by finding alternatives to hazardous chemicals.
"It is clear the impacts of the linear take-make-waste business model employed by device manufacturers extend beyond the concerns of e-waste,” said Cook. “We need to see greater ambition, more transparency, and follow-through from companies to address the environmental impacts of their enormous supply chains. The current model cannot be maintained.”