Green guide disputed, but influential




Tom Zeller Jr.
GREEN INC. NEW YORK In August 2006, Greenpeace took its first stab at ranking the green bona fides of 14 makers of consumer electronics. In a nutshell, the appraisals hinged on the elimination of certain hazardous chemicals and a willingness to take responsibility for products across their life cycles, through take-back programs, recycling and other efforts. On that first assessment, Nokia, the Finnish cellphone maker, and Dell, the Texas-based computer maker, fared well. Lenovo, the Chinese computer hardware maker, came in dead last. No company enjoyed being on the list, and it was, by many accounts, a crude assemblage. "It's not at all clear to us what Greenpeace based this report on," a representative of the Electronics Industry Association said to a reporter at Inside Green Business, a now defunct publication, shortly after the rankings were announced. Eight months later, as the third edition of Greenpeace's list arrived, a technology columnist at BusinessWeek magazine, Arik Hesseldahl, wrote, "There goes Greenpeace again, making noise with no substance to back it up." Apple, meanwhile, having become a favorite whipping boy for the organization's list makers (the company ranked last in the edition published April, 2007), went on the offensive. "In one environmental group's recent scorecard, Dell, H.P. and Lenovo all scored higher than Apple because of their plans (or 'plans for releasing plans' in the case of H.P.)," Steven P. Jobs, chief executive of Apple, said in a statement published on its Web site that year, referring to Hewlett-Pack-

ard. "In reality, Apple is ahead of all of these companies in eliminating toxic chemicals from its products." In November 2007, after the blog Boing Boing questioned.GreenpeaceS rankings — then in its fifth iteration — an anonymous commentator said, "Greenpeace is an evil organization that the press (and blogs in general) should ignore until it dies." Last week, against the backdrop of the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las^/egas — the industry's premier eveht|$t Greenpeace announced the 14th edition of its "Guide// " to Greener Electronics." This time, Nokia still holds the top slot, while Nintendo, the Japanese game console maker, brings up the rear. Greenpeace's guide is certainly not the only game in town — and critics inside and outside the electronics industry have pointed to other measureKIMMO MANTYLA/LEHTIKUVA ments, including the Electronic Nokia was ranked first in Greenpeace's Product Envirjjginental Assessment 14th "Guide to Greener Electronics," Tool, or Epeat,Wveloped by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, as being more fair, more comprehensive options for completing the phaseout or otherwise preferable to the Greenand will be providing an updated peace rankings. (Greenpeace has said timeline at the appropriate time." that Epeat's criteria are less stringent.) To be sure, the problems associated with certain chemicals commonly used But whatever might be said of its in consumer electronics is a pressing methods and accuracy, there is little one. question that the Greenpeace guide has become an influential fixture on the Along with the more widely known consumer electronics scene — and few toxins like mercury and lead, modern companies seem willing anymore to electronics are suffused with brominequibble with the rankings publicly. and chlorine-based compounds used "H.P. has a broad environmental sus- chiefly as inexpensive flame retardants in the manufacture of plastics and electainability strategy, which is inforrned tronic components. in part by our work with environmental stakeholder groups including GreenThese materials can leach into the peace; W.W.F., Tn'e environment in a variety of ways — not Sustainability Conleast when electronic components end The problems sortium and others," up in huge, smoldering landfills in the associated said a spokeswoman developing world, where a bustling with certain for H.P., which was after-market trade in electronic pieces chemicals ranked 11th among and parts ensures that people and the used in electhe 18 companies in plaijgt absorb a variety of oozing and the guide. tronics is a gaSSmitted poisons. ..'•.'.- , »»»»,,. A directive that went into effect in"" ~ pressing one. Each company rethe European Union in 2006, called the ceives an overall Restriction on Hazardous Substances, score between 1 restricts the use of a handful of toxic (bad) and 10 (good), which determines substances in consumer electronics, inits place in the rankings. cluding mercury, cadmium and lead. Samsung — which fell to a score of 5.1.from 6.1, andto a middling 7th in the. The directive, which covers a variety overall rankin|j|from second place — of products made in and imported to was accused bypSreenpeace of "backthe European Union, has served as a de tracking on its commitment to elimifacto restriction on manufacturers nate brominated flame retardants worldwide who want access to the (B.F.R.'s) in new models of all products European market. by January 2010," among other shortEuropean leaders are considering an comings. i expansion of the list of chemicals covered by the directive — and public The company said Friday that it resupport for doing so has become a crimained "committed to completing the terion forjudging companies on Greenremoval of broAuiated flame retardpeace's green electronics guide. ants" and " w a f f e currently evaluating

Nokia, which held.the No. 1 slot with an overall score of 7.3, was nonetheless penalized one point on the Greenpeace rankings for "failing to do proactive lobbying" for a revised directive. Microsoft, which finished second to last, was similarly criticized, "A lot of companies have made commitments," said Casey Harrell, a lead toxics campaigner with Greenpeace International, "but when'it's time to cash in'the chips, some are still dragging their feet. We're beginning to see some separation among the companies between the talkers and the doers." Whether consumers bother to consult Greenpeace's scores — or any other rating system, for that matter — is an open question. And even if they do, the absence of a universally agreedupon definition for what it means to be "green" tends to undermine any particular scorecard's claim to having the full view of things. "In addition to awarding seals of supposed greenness to products, organizations and publications are also increasingly grading corporations, including many electronics and technology companies, on their environmental policies and practices," a science and policy analyst with Consumers Union, Kristi Wiedemann, wrote on the Consumer Reports' blog on electronics last autumn. "As with the products seals, the result is information that's useful in some ways, and limited in others." Still, there seems to be little question that from a public relations perspective, such scrutiny — particularly Greenpeace's variety — is pushing the electronics industry at least to pay some lip-service, however grudgingly, to fundamental environmental concerns. "We appreciate Greenpeace'seffort to inform consumers about consumer electronics companies' progress m£j ward environmental sustainabili»| said Jennifer Boone Bemisderfer,||£enior manager specializing in.envir&imental policy at the Consumer Ele& tronics Association, the industry's \ leading trade organization. , "Subjective ranking systems can be useful and certainly gain attention for list producers," Ms. Bemisderfer said. "While there is much more to be done, the fact is that consumer electronics are more energy-efficient and more responsibly produced than at any time in history.

It may be time to run with the <
Oil bulls and bears have each had their triumphs in recent history. The price of crude rose to $147 a barrel in July 2008, only to plummet to $33 a barrel a few months later. It swung past $82 abarrel last week because of the cold snap, and is up 18 percent since mid-December. But barring heightened tension in the Middle East, oil looks likely to slide in the short term. Demand remains relatively subdued, in spite of the huge stimulus applied to the global economy. This is especially true in the United States, the world's largest consumer of energy, and other members of the Organization for Economic Cooperationjjnd Development. U.S. crude oil inventories actually rose by 1.3 million barrels last week, when temperatures plummeted, according to the latest figures from the Department of Energy. Elsewhere among O.E.C.D. members, oil inventories have fallen, but only slightly, according to the International Energy Agency. They are still high, at nearly 60 days of demand. Other factors could weigh on the pri mc inv tra ere thr t grc de' em Bu to ( rat for ulti sh£ 1 daj gar Coi fiel else tha ing ave the wit

Weighing, the risks of British pc
Britain's electoral arithmetic has its fiscal risks. The recent failed putsch against Gordon Brown will help the opposition Tories. And although the prime minister has hung onto power, it is only by his fingertips. The signs of disarray within his Labour Party will probably trouble voters and make it hard to present a credible campaign in the coming election. But David Cameron's Tories still don't have a clear lead. The ground the party lost in the 1990s — not just to Labour but to the Liberal Democrats— has not been made up. That raises the possibility of a hung Parliament, with the Lib Dems holding the balance of power. In some outlooks that would be good for fiscal discipline; in others, bad. One possibility is a Lib-Lab coalition. Brown's overtures to the Lib Dems have begun. A main issue is whether Labour would be prepared to concede a change in the electoral system to introduce proportional representation, which would favor the Lib Dems. If Labour were prepared to —and it might, since this might be its only realistic chance of hanging onto power —that could clinch the support of the Lib Dems. • •1 tioi trac the enji Cat sec als< cit I the: cut L isn' Par ser woi Mr. thr< defi hav ten will In s and ing. gen mal — ®f For ana \

It Tom Zeller Jr., Kate Galbraith and James Kanter report daily on energy, the environment and the bottom line.