Are big high-tech companies green hypocrites?

Green sells, whether the product in question is a hybrid car or a laptop computer. Tech firms know this, but they also face growing scepticism as a result of the the deluge of greenwash we are all being subjected to

Green sells, whether the product in question is a hybrid car or a laptop computer. Tech firms know this.

Apple has a "My Greener Apple" campaign--lauded as a huge success among ecology-conscious Apple customers. Microsoft boosted its green image last year when it sponsored Live Earth, a series of concerts dedicated to combating climate change. Larry David and Cheryl Hines of the HBO series Curb Your Enthusiasm did a MSN-sponsored environmental message video.

Nintendo showed its verdant tendencies last fall when it introduced a new Nintendo DS game for kids called Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol. Nintendo describes Chibi-Robo in a press release as "one of the first games based on the growing environmental movement." In the game, you are a robot that battles toxic Smoglings by planting flowers and building park equipment.

Trying to Put One Over on Us?

Now, some technology companies that tout their broad efforts to combat climate change and reduce e-waste are under fire from environmental watchdog groups. The critics say that companies such as Apple, Microsoft, and Nintendo still produce too many toxic gadgets and don't do enough to live up to their green pledges.

"Being green is more than a press release," says Zeina Al-Hajj, complaint coordinator for Greenpeace International. "You need to do more than just promote the concept of combating climate change--you need to actually do it as a company."

Earlier this year, Nintendo and Microsoft ranked near the bottom among 18 tech firms that Greenpeace rated for its "global policies and practices on eliminating harmful chemicals and on taking responsibility for their products once they are discarded by consumers."

Others faring poorly in Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics were TV makers Panasonic, Philips, and Sharp.

Is the iPhone Toxic?

In Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics, Apple received much better marks than Microsoft and Nintendo for making green gadgets, but it doesn't escape the environmentalists' green thumb's down on some criteria.

In laboratory tests analyzing components inside the iPhone, Greenpeace found that device contains hazardous chemicals including brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and hazardous polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs), two chemicals that Apple had promised to stop using by the end of 2008.

In a 2007 open letter posted to the Apple Web site, Steve Jobs stated, "Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors on environmental issues." When Apple released the iPhone, however, Greenpeace and the Center for Environmental Health deemed the product a step in the wrong direction.

By comparison, according to Greenpeace, Nokia products are totally PVC free, and Motorola and Sony Ericsson have handsets on the market with BFR-free components. Greenpeace published its study last October; the full report can be read online.

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Tom Spring

PC World
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