The other day after reading this I noted that according to the latest Greenpeace Guide Into Greener Electronics two my clients, HP and Dell were “backsliding” on environmental commitments.
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.
Ed Gemmell says
HP didn’t claim the report was ‘unfair’
to repeat my earlier comment:
“Fair enough that is their chosen role.”
Ed Gemmell says
To elaborate on my previous thought. When clarifying HP’s position on the Greenpeace ranking at no point did I say the report was unfair. We don’t think in terms of fair/unfair. Greenpeace have a position, and we respect what they are trying to achieve. The points I made included the statement made by greenpeace is untrue, HP is not backsliding, and that we believe in this particular space we believe ourselves to be leaders.
The title of your piece “HP claimes Greenpeace critique unfair’ is editorialising on your part, and not the postion of HP.
James Governor says
thanks for the feedback Ed. Like i said, i could just change the word unfair to untrue…
Siempre se puede criticar o mejorar los informes de Greenpeace, pero hay de decir que logran llamar la atenciÃ³n en los problemas.
Estoy de acuerdo que lo mejor hacia la sostenibilidad es comprar menos objetos, pero no se puede siempre cargar al consumidor con todas las responsabilidades. Las empresas tienen que mejorar su producciÃ³n y sus mÃ©todos. Y para comprar mejor (o menos), el consumidor necesita informaciÃ³n, lo que las empresas no siempre dan. Esto lo hace Greenpeace.
Gracias por el artÃculo, saludos.
Tom Dowdall says
Interesting to read HP’s response. Here are a few responses from Greenpeace. We pushed HP to commit to phase out toxic chemicals in 2005. HP responded to this in March 2006 with a commitment to achieve this in 2009.
We also pushed other electronic makers to do the same. Dell, Lenovo, HP and Acer committed to do this by 2009 with various statements. Later Apple promised to do this by end of 2008.
Why do we ask for commitments? For steps such as phasing out toxic chemicals this requires long lead times, significant R&D in to alternatives so it’s not something companies can change very quickly. Commitments do however send a clear signal to other companies that they should follow suit and a clear signal to the large electronics supply chain that suppliers will need to prepare to provide alternatives to big companies.
Recently we have seen Apple phase out PVC and BFRs in all applications in its latest PC’s except for the PVC free power cords (pending certification). They missed their end 2008 deadline but not by much and they have shown that it clearly is possible to find alternatives that do not compromise safety, reliability or the environment for PC’s. On toxics elimination Apple is leading other PC brands.
On the other hand we have criticized Dell, HP and Lenovo for now dropping their 2009 commitment and failing to even set a new timeline. This sends a signal to suppliers that these companies are not prioritising the sourcing of alternatives so suppliers will invest less in developing these and low demand will ensure economies of scale do not reduce costs.
As well as Apple, Dell has more products with reduced PVC and BFRs than HP so we see HP as falling behind, and definitely not leading on toxics elimination as the above statement claims.
The full detailed criteria for our Guide to Greener Electronics is available here:
We provide companies the chance to feedback on criteria but we also update the criteria and scoring according to best practice by the most progressive companies so it continues to drive improvements from all companies featured.