Choose Greener Gadgets … Easily!

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Every year, Greenpeace releases its “Guide to Greener Electronics” — the one released last September was the 13th edition of the publication. I’m a long-time Greenpeace supporter and personal electronics user, yet I’d never even heard of the guide. Have you?

If you’re purchasing a computer, phone, TV or games console, this guide is essential reading. Download the full report in PDF format, and you’ll see electronics manufacturers in a whole new light.

What’s the Point?

According to Greenpeace, “The guide ranks the 18 top manufacturers of personal computers, mobile phones, TVs and games consoles according to their policies on toxic chemicals, recycling and climate change.”

Helping you to support electronics manufacturers that are ahead of the pack in terms of their environmental policies and practices is the whole point here, though it won’t make your next purchase a no-brainer.

Firstly, the average web worker uses many other electronic devices than just computers, phones, TVs and consoles, as our “What’s in Your Bag?” series showed — cameras, voice recorders and music players are just a smattering of the gadgets we own. So if I’m buying a camera, for example, the guide will be useless…or will it? A key benefit of the guide is that it rates manufacturers on the known aspects of their operations, not the products themselves. However, in an imperfect world, with imperfect information, I feel happy enough to infer the environmental credentials of the rated producers onto the other electronics products they produce.

The other snag is that you may be looking to purchase an item produced by a company that doesn’t rank in the 18 market leaders, like BenQ for example. You won’t know where the manufacturer sits relevant to the others in the guide. The answer here is, of course, to do your own research on the products you’re considering. But I expect I’d need to do that, no matter which items or producers I was considering.

How to Use It

Some of the web workers I know are extremely brand loyal. When their preferred company brings out a new computer, for example, they queue to buy it. Others are more impulse-driven, finding a great sale or markdown on a model they’ve been coveting for months, and pouncing.

Whether you’re brand loyal or a bargain hunter, buying in-store our online, this guide will help you navigate your way to the more environmentally sound brands. So, for example, if you’re buying a new phone, you might decide to opt for a Nokia (s nok), Samsung or Sony Ericsson (s sne), which are the only brands to have scored above 6 in the guide. From there, you can conduct your own research on the product’s features and benefits.

Other Considerations and Limitations

Greenpeace points out that the guide is, in part, designed to encourage manufacturers to “take responsibility for the full life cycle of their products, including the electronic waste that their products generate”, so using this advice to help make your purchasing decisions is a good way to actively support greener producers by voting with your wallet.

However, as Greenpeace acknowledges, “The guide does not rank companies on labor standards, mining, or any other issues” — it covers environmental criteria only. Greenpeace points us to Good Electronics, the international network on human rights and sustainability in electronics, and Make IT Fair, both of which produce reports that will help to answer your questions on the community- and mining-related issues that surround the electronics industry in general, and certain manufacturers in particular.

Spend a few minutes comparing this information with the data provided in the Greenpeace guide, and you should have as clear a picture as is reasonably possible of how your choice of gadget impacts the people who make it and dispose of it once you throw it away.

From there, you can start to look at specific models, researching their practical, environmental and social benefits and features, and weighing up the pros and cons of each, and make an informed, responsible decision about how you’ll spend your money.

How important to you are the environmental and social credentials of the electronics products you buy?

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