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Greenies give IT industry a black eye

Try harder next time guys

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CeBIT Greenpeace told the computer industry to try harder today, as its latest report into the electronics industry showed just three products reaching the half-way mark in reducing their environmental impact.

The report, unveiled at CeBIT this morning, said there had been some progress towards making Green IT more than a marketing phrase. The industry, broadly speaking, was moving beyond the minimal legal requirements in eliminating hazardous substances from products while the increased emphasis on climate change meant the industry was “moving fast” in seeking to make products more energy efficient.

However, Greenpeace also found the industry was still failing to put together a “comprehensive lifecycle approach”, meaning environmental impact was not being reduced in the early part of a product’s lifecycle – ie manufacturing, and design – or downstream, in terms of extending the lifespan of products.

The report assessed 37 products volunteered from 14 companies against four criteria: use of hazardous substances; energy efficiency; product lifecycle; and innovations and marketing. The maximum score was 100 points, which was then expressed as a mark out of 10.

In the event, only three scored even half marks: the Sony Vaio TZ11 notebook; the Sony Ericsson T650i mobile phone; and the Sony Ericsson P1i PDA.

Despite a move towards energy efficiency, Greenpeace still said “all products scored poorly on providing useful power-saving tools to consumers.” The organisation also found companies did poorly at revealing how much energy went into the production of their products – something which can account for a third of the energy consumption of a product over its lifespan. Companies did better at highlighting the extent to which their products were free of hazardous chemicals, and at highlighting their more environmentally sound products on their websites.

Looking ahead, Greenpeace called on electronics companies to stop using exemptions from RoHS (Restriction on Hazardous Substances) lists, and to stop using other hazardous substances which currently aren’t on the list. On power consumption, it also called on firms to go beyond the Energy Star 4 guidelines announced last year.

Greenpeace called for an “industry wide standard on lifecycle analysis” to track the true environmental impact of products. It also called for companies to work more closely with recyclers to ensure their products are as recycleable as they present them.

More broadly, and more difficult perhaps, it says vendors need to shift away from planned obsolesence, and start producing long-lived, upgradable products. It pointed to the history of the photocopier business as a model of how technology could be sold – and maintained and upgraded – as a service.

Joseph Reger, CTO of Fujitsu Siemens, said product lifecycles were a thorny issue, as technology was improving so fast. Did it make more sense to extend the life of inefficient products, he asked, or dump them early for greener alternatives?

He also said it was difficult to squeeze energy costs out of the early part of the lifecycle of some products, as key components, were effectively single sourced, and there was little an OEM could do to influence the amount of air miles an Intel processor clocked up before it ended up in a PC.

Companies who coughed up their products for the survey included big names like Sony, HP, Fujitsu Siemens, Dell, Lenovo, LG, Motorola and Samsung.

However, Greenpeace expressed frustration that a many other big players, including Apple, Acer, Nintendo and Creative, did not supply kit. ®

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