Of course there are always many sides to any story, and I wondered whether Greenpeace might be reading statements of direction by these vendors as formal commitments, and then unfairly penalising them for the initial positive statement: in this case the aim of eliminating toxic vinyl plastic (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) by the end of 2009.
HP does appear to have made a strong commitment in 2005. To be fair to Greenpeace, both Dell and HP are strongly marketing their environmentally friendly bona fides, and as such deserve a higher level of scrutiny.
But to fair to the vendors it can hard be hard to replace toxic materials at reasonable cost – and in that spirit I thought it only fair to include a statement I received from HP to help you make up your own minds.
Greenpeace say we are backsliding on commitment. The statement is untrue.
HP had a goal. Subtle but important difference. This was a deliberate language on our part as we knew when making the goal that the effort would requires significant R&D effort, and when we made the goal there was no clear solution to the problem. HP is conservative enough not to make commitments when we have no clear idea how we are going to achieve them. (You can criticise our conservatism in this regard and that would be fair – but you cannot criticise us for backsliding on a commitment we didn’t make)
The goal in full reads:
“Eliminate the remaining uses of BFRs and PVC from new computing products launched in 2009 as technologically feasible alternatives become readily available that will not compromise product performance or quality and will not adversely impact health or the environment. ”
Our progress against the goal is:
HP will introduce several new computing products this year that use less BFR/PVC than previous generations.
As the availability of BFR and PVC components continues to increase, we will incrementally reduce the use of these substances in our products as quickly as possible until they are eliminated entirely, but due to the lack of acceptable alternatives in necessary volumes, HP will not be able to deliver all new computing products launched in 2009 that are 100 percent BFR/PVC free.
As a background: our overall commitment is:
To take a proactive approach to evaluating materials and eliminating those that pose an environmental, health or safety risk. We may replace or eliminate substances because of customer or legal requirements or because we believe it is appropriate based on a precautionary approach. We strive to replace even legally permitted materials when scientific data has established a potential health or environmental risk and when less risky, commercially viable alternatives are available.
Other achievements in this sphere include:
Eliminated more than 95 percent of the BFRs used in the external case plastics of products more than 10 years ago, including two, PBDE and PBB, which were subsequently among the substances restricted by the EU RoHS Directive. During the same timeframe, HP also eliminated polyvinyl chloride from the external case plastics of its products.
In 2006 we met our goal to remove remaining brominated flame retardants from external case plastic parts in all new HP product models introduced after December 31, 2006 as well as removing PVC from new packaging designs for HP product models in 2006.
In short, we actually think we are a leader in this space, but because we won’t make a commitment to phase something out, where we see no safe, economic alternative right now Greenpeace criticise us for that. Fair enough that is their chosen role.
It might be interesting to more closely scrutinise Apple’s performance in looking at the same toxic chemicals. While Greenpeace normally slams Apple environmental performance, this year it applauded the firm as it “leaps” four places in the rankings.
According to Greenpeace: “All Apple products are now free of PVC and BFRs with the exception of PVC-free power cords which are in the process of being certified.”
However, and this is an awfully big however: “Apple fails to score top marks on this criterion because it uses unreasonably high threshold limits for BFRs and PVC in products that are allegedly PVC-/BFR-free.”
It seems to me that Greenpeace could perhaps open up the scoring and ranking system to other organisations as peer review bodies. At the moment the Green Guide scoring system is possibly a little opaque, which does us all a disservice. It is still an extremely useful initiative though, and one that exerts pressure on companies to improve. Given governments are performing so abjectly on sustainability the new alignment of stakeholder values driven by organisations like Greenpeace is more important than ever.
Finally remember that it is us that buys these products. If you “just have to have” the very latest phone or laptop , then you’re as much part of the problem as any technology company. The quickest route to a sustainable planet is buy less stuff.