Greenpeace: Tech giants neglecting environmental responsibility

Some of the world's biggest tech firms are failing to show ambition in their efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of their supply chains, according to Greenpeace, which claims the current model cannot be maintained.

Greenpeace USA research examines how 17 tech companies are performing in key sustainability areas such as emissions reductions, resource consumption and elimination of hazardous chemicals.

The Guide to Greener Electronics report gave 11 companies, including Samsung, Huawei and Amazon, a score rating in the D and F range. Nearly all of the companies are allegedly yet to address the growing carbon footprint in their supply chains, where up to 80% of carbon emissions over a device’s lifetime occurs during manufacturing. 

Most firms, such as Amazon and Google, lack transparency on their suppliers, Greenpeace claims. Amazon, which refuses to report the greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint of its own operations, is criticised for providing few details on its sourcing of recycled materials or restrictions on hazardous chemicals.

“Tech companies claim to be at the forefront of innovation, but their supply chains are stuck in the Industrial Age,” said Greenpeace USA senior IT campaigner Gary Cook. “We know they can change. Rather than fuelling climate change, these companies need to show the way forward, just as some companies like Google and Apple have with data centres run on renewables.”

e-waste mountain

The report highlights a lack of urgency in tackling global e-waste volumes, which are expected to surpass 65 million metric tonnes this year. Some progress has been made by brands such as Dell, which claims to be the largest recycler of e-waste in the world after introducing takeback schemes that allow customers to turn in obsolete electronics to when purchasing new technologies.

However, there is little reporting on what is actually being reported or where it goes upon collection, Greenpeace insists. These conclusions echo previous findings from a global toxic trade watchdog which found that many tech firms refuse to inform the public where their toxic e-waste ends up.

The Basel Action Network (BAN) investigation claimed that firms including Dell remain “secretive about downstream destinations. It also revealed that many discarded electronic items are being exported to Asia for treatment, leading to unsafe labour and environmental conditions in the recipient countries.

The Greenpeace study insists that planned obsolescence is increasingly being adopted as a design feature, with many of the latest products from Apple, Microsoft and Samsung said to be difficult to repair or upgrade.

The report does note, however, that some tech firms have stepped up the use of secondary materials in their products. Apple has pledged to “go deeper” developing new closed-loop products by using only renewable resources or recycled materials that negate the need to mine materials, starting with tin and aluminium.

“It’s clear the impacts of the linear take-make-waste business model of device manufacturers extend beyond the concerns of e-waste,” said Cook. “We need to see greater ambition, more transparency, and follow through from companies to address the environmental impacts of their enormous supply chains. The current model cannot be maintained.”

George Ogleby 

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