Apple has topped the electronics sector in addressing its environmental footprint, according to a new report released by Greenpeace. In the same week that Berlin will gather some of the world’s biggest technology companies for its IFA 2014 technology show, Greenpeace has released a new report, Green Gadgets: Designing the future, evaluating which of these products wins the award for having the lowest environmental impact.
The Greenpeace report evaluates 16 of the biggest tech giants (including Apple, Samsung, Dell, Nokia, Toshiba, HP and Panasonic) on the steps they’ve made to reduce their energy demand, eliminate the use of hazardous chemicals and their development of more sustainable supply chains.
Apple — which Greenpeace already applauded in its recent Clicking Clean report for working to power the Internet with 100 percent renewable energy — has been judged to have topped the environmental charts this time round, leapfrogging its main mobile rival Samsung.
“Apple has shown us a glimpse of a greener future, leading the sector on toxic-free products and starting to address the huge environmental footprint of electronics manufacturing. But the industry still has a long road ahead of it before they’re giving customers the level of efficiency and sustainability they are asking for,” said Andrew Hatton, Greenpeace UK’s head of IT.
Samsung, Apple and Nokia collectively account for 50 percent of the mobile market, which is now free of the most hazardous chemical substances: Polyvinylchloride (PVC) and Brominated flame retardants (BFRs), both of which present human health concerns and lack degradability in the environment. Apple, however, is the only company to eliminate the use of these chemicals in all of its products (not just mobile phones), and has also pledged to make further steps in eliminating hazardous chemical use in its supply chain.
On the other hand, Samsung, the world’s largest electronics company, has failed to follow through on its commitment to eliminate this chemical use beyond its mobile phone products. According to the report, Dell has also failed to meet its chemical phase-out pledge. New companies on the tablet and mobile stage have also failed to meet these targets: Microsoft dropped its phase-out commitment, while Amazon has made no such information public.
The report highlights the need for the complete elimination of hazardous chemicals across all commercial production streams which, along with supply chain transparency, continues to be a needed shift for the technology industry. The report has called upon tech companies to follow other industries by example — such as the textile industry, which is making big steps in this respect with 20 major global textile companies pledging to eliminate all hazardous chemicals by 2020 (stretching all the way back to their source in production hubs such as China).
In terms of energy demand and carbon emissions, the report has revealed that overall, electronics companies are failing to significantly reduce their footprint. The manufacture of electronics goods (such as laptops and phones) is incredibly energy-intensive, and with the majority of production sites being focused in East Asia where the dominant energy source is coal, carbon emissions remain high. Smaller companies such as Lenovo and Huawei have made small positive steps by adding small-scale solar installations in some factories, and Apple has set out plans for the first 100 percent renewable factory to manufacture iPhone screens. The report highlights, however, that the energy intensity of the industry means that large expansion of cleaner energies will be required throughout the supply chain if the footprint of our gadgets is to be significantly reduced.
The overall electronic product sales are expected to reach 2.5 billion in 2014 — highlighting the alarming growth rate of the technology sector overall. With its inherent high environmental impact, Greenpeace have raised concern over whether such a booming industry can continue to grow sustainably, especially when the basis of its economic model is to promote ever-increasing demand. The report suggests that consideration of this expansion model will be key to averting a growing environmental crisis.
Greenpeace has called for the advanced nature of the electronics industry to shine through in developing a more sustainable market.
“The innovative electronics industry is perfectly placed to reimagine their manufacturing and marketing processes. They’re designing our future, and we need that future to be a lot cleaner and greener than where we are now,” added Hatton.
Apple topping the Greenpeace list should not come as a surprise — over the last few months, the company has made several steps to reduce its environmental impact: It has made sustainability a key development focus with its “Better” campaign, has tried to clamp down on its use of “conflict materials” by revealing the names and certification status of all its suppliers, now powers 100 percent of its data centers with renewable energy, and in July was again applauded by Greenpeace for its investment in a US$55 million solar farm to power its iCloud. In June, however, 80 environmental and health organizations across 27 countries wrote a letter to Apple’s VP of Environmental Affairs, Lisa Jackson, calling for the elimination of all hazardous chemicals from its production chains in China (where chemicals such as benzene and n-hexane have been highlighted as human carcinogens).