Greenpeace Takes Electronics Companies to Task, But Are They Fair?

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I’ve been mulling Greenpeace’s “Guide to Greener Electronics” since its release yesterday, especially its ranking of Nintendo, who scores a zero out of a possible ten. On the one hand I appreciate their attempts to hold electronics companies to high environmental standards; on the other, it seems that they may be making an example out of a popular company by holding them to arbitrary standards, much like they did earlier this year with Apple and the iPhone.

Nintendo’s main sin seems to be not a lack of environmental responsibility, but a lack of information about their policies. The PDF that details Nintendo’s failings links repeatedly to this FAQ page on Nintendo’s site, where they answer “What does Nintendo do to help protect the environment?”. (Examples: “We limit our use of colored paper”; “We require that manufacturers not use any banned substances (such as lead, mercury, etc.) in components, nor use them in the manufacturing process for any components used inside of our products.”)

That second claim by Nintendo is pretty broad, but also clear: they say they aren’t using banned substances. And I’ll agree that they should be publicly listing the standards to which they are adhering and a list of the specific chemicals they aren’t using, as requested by Greenpeace. But Greenpeace’s decision to label Nintendo’s “Chemicals Management” score as “Bad,” giving no points on their scale, instead of “Partially Bad,” seems to be an attempt to single out a popular company to better publicize their report as a whole. Public shaming is a useful tool, but not at the expense of fairness.

I remain genuinely conflicted. Should Greenpeace have given Nintendo a chance to address their accountability issues before issuing the report? Does Greenpeace deserve credit as a watchdog when they seem willing to forgo evenhandedness for dramatic gesture? Or does the end justify the means?

How the companies line up [Greenpeace.org]

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18 Responses to Greenpeace Takes Electronics Companies to Task, But Are They Fair?

  1. anthropomorphictoast says:

    If it weren’t for organizations like Greenpeace, we wouldn’t have anyone pushing for things like the Kyoto Protocol. Sure, they’re loud and obnoxious about how they do things, but so are the ones who’d sell their own grandmothers for a $50 hike in oil prices. :P

    It may not be a HUGE help in controlling harmful emissions, but it’s a start.

  2. masomenos says:

    I would encourage the critics of Greenpeace’s guide to identify any superior alternatives.

    If, as I suspect is the case, nobody’s done anything better on this important issue, then Greenpeace deserves our thanks for getting the discussion started.

  3. Tom says:

    Better than Greenpeace? Easy. Energy Probe Research Foundation. Also check out the Ontario Green Party.

    One of those organizations is pro-nuke, one is anti-nuke, both have rational, empirical arguments to back up their positions (it’s, like, y’know, a complicated question that rational individuals can legitimately disagree on.)

    As to “precautionary” regulation, some of us believe that the precautionary principle should be applied to the actions of governments as well, as governments are empirically known to ruin lives and kill people, which is more than can be said for climate change. Even “a passionate socialist as well as environmentalist” is aware of the risks of regulation in the name of speculation.

    Motivating people with irrational beliefs has worked well for religious organizations over the millennia, but hasn’t worked out so well for the people whose lives have been ruined as an incidental waste product of the whole “end justifies the lies” approach. Greenpeace is one half of the poison in the environmental debate. Lying corporations and governments are the other.

    But don’t kid yourself that despite all that there are still people out there trying to do good science in the midst of all the marketing and manipulation that organizations like Greenpeace and the American coal industry are engaged in.

  4. schmod says:

    Since its inception, Greenpeace has set the environmentalist movement back a good 20-30 years.

  5. jitrobug says:

    fine. I’ll answer my own question.

    http://www.hardcoreware.net/reviews/review-356-2.htm

    The wii uses an order of magnitude less power than it’s direct competitors. 18 watts vs 180 & 190.

    The report says they score 0 across all criteria.

    Power consumption isn’t part of the criteria for how green an *electronic device* is?

    come on. that’s embarassing.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Greenpeace is an evil organization that the press (and blogs in general) should ignore until it dies. Their main goals are good, and there should be more environmental activists to push the green agenda, but Greenpeace are terrorists who think that the ends justify the means, so that anything they say is automatically tainted by their total lack of objectivity.

    Actually, I apply the same reasoning to PeTA, and any celebrities who ally themselves with either of these organizations completely lose any social and political credibility in my eyes.

    (unrelated: I just got a pretty ironic captcha: “actors busy”)

  7. Geno Z Heinlein says:

    I think rating a lack of information as bad is the right thing to do. Secrecy is part of the problem in human society.

    Electronic manufacturing and other large, complex or high-tech businesses don’t exist in a vacuum; they are part of a complex society, an inter-dependent technological system that took literally millennia of back-breaking to build. Large manufacturers are built on, and dependent on, the labor of workers; the highest technology manufacturers are exponentially more dependent on this economic food chain made of literally billions of individual workers.

    Manufacturers must be held accountable by and to the people of all the world for what they do. They must report clearly and unambiguously to the people whose labor makes possible the manufacturers’ very existence.

    There is no way to hold large companies accountable — or for that matter, reward them for good behavior — without thorough transparency. A lack of information is not just a sign that a company might be worthy of a second, more thorough, examination. A lack of openness is a profound breach of the social contract.

  8. meerkat says:

    It’s hard to know in cases like these how much back & forth really takes place between the org and the corporations. Personally, it is hard for me to feel particularly bad for Nintendo or anyone ranked very low on the Greenpeace scale – even if their criteria might be questionable to some. It’s important to have reports like this to shake things up and make companies like Nintendo explain their side – they are a huge manufacturer and obviously use massive amounts of resources for their products, a little more transparency should be part of their CSR efforts.

    Of course, people might be inclined to thing that Greenpeace is just trying to promote itself with this rhetoric. There is a fairly recent article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review that describes how orgs like Greenpeace have very successfully leveraged this type of publicity into real change – I cannot find the article online but here is the abstract from it: http://www.ssireview.org/articles/entry/turning_conflict_into_cooperation/
    It is a great read!

  9. darth_schmoo says:

    I’m don’t think the 0/10 ranking is unfair. The companies were quizzed on their e-waste policies, and Nintendo basically turned in a blank sheet of paper. As any TA knows, you can’t grade the material in a student’s head, only what makes its way to the paper.

    As for the argument that they should have gotten points for not using “banned substances”, I wouldn’t give much credit for merely avoiding prosecution. If a company is doing less than Nintendo is claiming, that’s not the concern of this list, but of the relevant regulatory agencies.

    Should energy use be a criteria? Probably not. The report isn’t comparing the Wii to the 360, but Nintendo to Microsoft (to Lenovo to Samsung to Phillips). It would be hard to meaningfully compare energy efficiency across such a disparate range of products.

    My problem with the ratings is that they may be inadequate. Nokia got plenty of credit for their phone recycling, until someone from Greenpeace actually tried to recycle a phone. It’s difficult to tell the difference between talking the talk and walking the walk.

  10. ogvor says:

    I find Greenpeace to be to radical and that they are just trying to grab media attention. They accused Apple last year becuase they were succesful, same reason they attack Nintendo now. I mean, the group convinced Nambia not to take GM corn even while thousands starve to death. Whether or not the Genetically modified food is dangerous, it’s still food, and their aren’t millions of Americans dying everyday from it.

    Here’s a link to that story
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2002/1114/p12s01-woaf.html
    (Greenpeace isn’t mentioned, but they are at the heart of the campaign that lead to the President decideing against feeding his people the corn)

  11. mightymouse1584 says:

    As tainted as Greenpeace is, i have trouble taking anything they say with little more than a grain of salt. As Ogvor said, they convinced Zambia not to accept genetically modified foods on the basis that it may be dangerous to the health of those eating it. You would think some food would be better than none at all. Greenpeace’s view? Better to starve to death than eat modified crops.

  12. jitrobug says:

    So, eh, what’s the power consumption difference between the wii, 360 & PS3?

  13. meerkat says:

    What’s the point of running an international environmental NGO working for global change if not to produce these large, thought-provoking campaigns? People are not stupid – if you donate to Greenpeace – your money is going to create reports & events that stir things up. It’s amusing to equate GP with terrorists – that’s the kind of bright thinking that accompanied the ATHF Shennigans in Boston this summer.

    People wanting Greenpeace to be a calm, polite and behind-the-scenes organization are missing the point – there are plenty smaller NGOs that benefit from the actions of organizations like Greenpeace and PETA to draw attentions to important issues. The Media/Communications departments of orgs like GP and PETA are genius – the fact that so many are made uncomfortable by their ads is a testament to their success.

  14. abkad says:

    I feel like rolling my eyes as hard as I’ve ever done it before.

    Greenpeace does fantastic work and often times does it better than anyone else. I don’t think the issue of “fairness” matters at all here. Yes, they focus on companies that will make a big public splash, but they’re hardly ignoring the others and it’s certainly not an issue of corruption with Greenpeace. By bringing the most publicity to the issue, by focusing limited resources on large companies, it’s more likely that the industry will finally either regulate itself or be regulated by governments.

    As far as being “anti-science,” I think the issue here is that my fellow Americans are used to a government that does nothing until there is a crisis. Greenpeace, as well as the EU, think that these issues should be regulated with a precautionary approach. The way we run things now, many voters and politicians in this country wouldn’t hit the brakes until the science shows we’ve already driven off the cliff.

  15. Skwid says:

    They may not be terrorists, Meerkat, but it’s harder to deny that they’re troll-ish assholes.

  16. meerkat says:

    I don’t give Greenpeace money – they are technically a 501(c)4 and I don’t agree with their fundraising efforts, especially on-the-street solicitations. But they are full of passionate, intelligent people and I think that they are a critical part of the modern environmental movement.

    They are more performance artists than real assholes. I can see why they offend a lot of people and I will not waste my time trying to convince people that they are not.

    On a personal level – I find most of their direct action highly entertaining!

  17. Tom says:

    Greenpeace is a political organization skilled at pushing people’s emotional buttons. They have gained credibility due to clever marketing and strong branding.

    They are anti-scientific because knowing the truth does not suit their preconceived agenda, which is based on an unsupported dismissal of entire families of technology due on problems with a few particular instances. Their policy positions rest on the logical fallacy of undistributed middle: “Chernobyl was bad; Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant; Ergo, nuclear power plants are bad”.

    Therefore Greenpeace constitutes an environmental hazard, as only rationally justifiable empirically supported policies are going to create sustainable environmental improvements.

    They are not, however, terrorists, unless one finds irrational political organizations terrifying, in which case they are very, very far down on that particular list.

  18. bud oracle says:

    I have an answer to the TASER.

    HID- Human Immobilization Device.

    light, compact, simple elegant design, no electrical parts safe for the user as well as the suspect, can be operated at a distance as great, or greater than the TASER.

    Takes a paradigm shift from the mentality of a shooter/inflicter of pain for control/threat mitigation, and changes it to that of a capture tool operator. Google it it belongs to me. KK

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