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Consumer Electronics Green Report Offers Hope And Spin

The Consumer Electronics Association offers a mix of optimism and green spin in the release of what it calls the "first industry-wide consumer electronics environmental sustainability report."
The Consumer Electronics Association offers a mix of optimism and green spin in the release of what it calls the "first industry-wide consumer electronics environmental sustainability report."The CEA is cleverly cautious in the wording used in Environmental Sustainability and Innovation in the Consumer Electronics Industry, based on research conducted for it by Technology Forecasters. It notes early in the report, for example, that "electricity use per $1 million revenue dollars decreased by 5% to 25% during the past three to four years among those companies that achieved reduction" and that "seven of the 10 lowered their emissions per million dollars, and four companies actually lowered their absolute greenhouse gas emissions."

What you don't read about these 10 companies until page 18 is that, on average, these 10 major consumer electronics companies spewed out 15% more greenhouse gas emissions per $1 million revenue in 2007 than they did in 2004.

I say this not because I see the glass as half empty. I say this because the glass is half full but filled with a mix of potable water and toxins, and we need to be clear about what we're swallowing.

Some passages in the report are nothing short of curious: "In examining existing practices, we noticed immediately that some systems bring environmental benefit as a natural component of doing business. In these instances, no trade-off exists between profit and planet, and each day, companies are discovering more and more ways to align these two goals." Presumably the "benefit" refers to other aspects of corporate social responsibility the companies are engaging in, rather than reckoning a position of doing no harm as an environmental benefit.

And in reporting that some of the 20 companies diverted up to 98% of their unusable materials from landfills, it notes that "if all 20 of these companies sent no more than 2% of their waste to landfills, nearly 2 million tons of material would be beneficially repurposed." And if turnips were horses, beggars would ride. As it is, 31% of companies interviewed as part of a broader study cited in the report do not actively recycle electronics or components.

Lastly, the report cites the Green Electronics Council's (GEC) calculations that 2007 purchases of EPEAT-certified (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool) products have reduced the use of primary materials by 75.5 million metric tons. To be clear, while EPEAT has been a tremendously important environmental program, this is not an absolute reduction in materials use, but a savings had "conventional" products been manufactured in their stead.

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Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer