Tech giants warp eco standards to greenwash electronics, rake in cash
How IT titans hijack manufacturing standards to put sales before planet
Mobile devices have become far less easy to repair than their desktop-bound predecessors. Partly that's a consequence of miniaturization. But it also reflects deliberate decisions to glue components in place, to use proprietary screws, and to withhold technical information.
Repair.org is not the only group upset with the status quo. Greenpeace issued a report in June that chided Apple, Microsoft, and Samsung for making devices that are difficult to repair. The German environmental agency Umweltbundesamt (UBA) and the European Commission have likewise argued that the ability to repair and reuse products has environmental and economic benefits.
Coincidentally, when tech companies support repairs, they often prefer to capture that business and keep it for themselves.
"In the server market, those companies love that their product is repairable because it's cheaper for them to fix it," said Shaffer. "But they don't love when someone else can fix it. With Oracle, for example, if you have one of their old servers, if you don't buy their service contract, you will not be able to get the firmware upgrades because they control those completely."
The report concludes that captured environmental standards are a farce. Green electronics standards, it says, "have become a complicated way for manufacturers to greenwash products that have a devastating environmental impact and pat themselves on the back for business as usual."
Shaffer suggested academics, advocacy organizations, and those concerned about the environment will need to convince lawmakers to force the IT industry to create more repairable, reusable products.
Nancy Gillis, CEO of Green Electronics Council, which administers EPEAT, in a phone interview with The Register explained that EPEAT's rules come from standards organizations like the IEEE, and the GEC needs to apply the rules it is given.
Gillis said she welcomed Repair.org's report for opening up a dialogue on issues that need to be addressed.
"There's obviously something that's not working and we need to figure out what that is," she said, pointing to the amount of time it takes to develop standards.
The report suggests the standards process demands a lot of time, which discourages participation from non-industry stakeholders in academia and in advocacy organizations.
Gillis said the process needs to move more quickly while also observing that consensus-driven decisions take time.
"We're all very committed to making whatever changes are necessary so institutional purchasers can continue to rely on the EPEAT brand because there are so many gains to be had from being able to pick credible environmentally responsible brands," she said. ®