Are Big High-Tech Companies Green Hypocrites?

"The challenge for some companies with a green message is avoiding being criticized for what they are not doing," Skierka says. Though some companies are legitimately criticized for pretending to embrace environmentally responsible behavior, she says, some well-intentioned companies end up being unfairly labeled as "greenwashers"--eco-phonies who conceal environmentally unfriendly practices beneath a veneer of Earth-friendly rhetoric.

In Skierka's view, fear of being labeled a greenwasher prevents many comfpanies from pursuing their environmentally beneficial business practices more aggressively and visibly.

For its part, Nintendo recycles 70 percent of its waste and has created "green procurement standards" that prevent vendors from using banned substances such as lead and mercury.

Apple says that it has significantly reduced the amount of toxins in its computers (an achievement Greenpeace acknowledges) and that it sponsors an aggressive component recycling program.

Microsoft--along with Dell, Google, IBM, and Intel--formed the Climate Savers Computing Initiative (CSCI), which works with the Environmental Protection Agency, the World Wildlife Fund, and other organizations to tackle the problem of global warming.

Greenpeace's biggest beef with Microsoft and Nintendo involves the game consoles the two companies sell. The ecology organization says that both companies continue to use too many hazardous substances in manufacturing the consoles and don't have adequate takeback and recycling programs for obsolete models.

Guilty but Getting Better

"Sure, some of our members are guilty of greenwashing," says Jennifer Boone Bemisderfer, spokesperson for the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA), a trade association representing more than 2200 companies that make consumer electronics. "But lessening our environmental impact is a process and something we are committed to."

Earlier this year, the CEA promoted its 2008 International CES trade show as "green," promising a reduction of the show's carbon footprint as well as promotion of sustainable, energy-efficient practices. It has also launched a Web site--MyGreenElectronics.org--designed to help consumers find a place to recycle their old electronic gear and reduce their energy consumption.

Responses to the CEA's efforts, thus far, have ranged from accusations of greenwashing to applause for taking a meaningful step in the right direction.

"So far we aren't seeing much action to back up the rhetoric," says Sam Haswell, communications director for the Rainforest Action Network, who is careful not to single out any specific company. He adds, "We are not looking for every opportunity to slam a company for being green hypocrites. But at the same time, we are trying to make it harder for companies to fool the public."

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