Greenpeace gave Nintendo a failing grade Tuesday on its effort to recycle game consoles and phase out the use of toxic chemicals.
In the environmental watchdog's sixth quarterly guide to "green" electronics released Nov. 27, Nintendo became the first manufacturer to receive zero out of 10 points. Greenpeace says that the Japanese video-game company – which has not yet issued a statement responding to the report – provides no information on the materials used in manufacturing its consoles nor on its plans to cut hazardous chemicals. Thus it "completely fails to show any environmental credentials."
Also getting low marks were Philips, which scored 2 points, and Microsoft, which scored 2.7. Both companies, say Greenpeace, have been slow to phase out their use of PVCs and brominated flame retardants and fail to take sufficient responsibility for their products when consumers discard them.
Topping the list of 18 global electronics manufactures are Sony, Ericsson, and Samsung, with each receiving 7.7 points. Greenpeace praised these companies for eliminating the most harmful chemicals from their products and for transparency on their take-back and recycling programs. The environmental group punished last year's leader, Nokia, for breaking promises to recycle hardware in five of six countries where Greenpeace conducted spot-checks with hidden cameras.
"To achieve higher rankings, companies really need to walk the talk instead of making vague commitments to future progress," said Rick Hind, legislative director of the Greenpeace toxics campaign in the United States, in a press release. "Environmental leadership and innovation are evident as companies put products on the market free of hazardous chemicals and institute recycling take-back programs which are actually operational," he said.
Discarded electronics can be a valuable source of raw materials, but absent a legal framework and a collections scheme, most end up in landfills, where they are a major source of toxins.
In the US, so-called e-waste represents 2 percent of the garbage in landfills, but 70 percent of overall toxic waste, according to Mother Jones magazine.
But regulations to reduce e-waste are beginning to take hold. According to the Associated Press, eight US states, including five just this year, have passed laws requiring electronicsmakers to take back and recycle their own products. In March, the United Nations launched an initiative to set global standards for e-waste recycling.
Until such standards are implemented, however, environmental activists will rely on the public shaming of companies, hoping that the bad press will compel them to clean up their act. Greenpeace claims victory in a campaign that sought to persuade Apple, Inc. to become greener. The campaign, which included a spoof of Apple's website, prompted a detailed response from Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who pledged to change his company's manufacturing and recycling policies.
But some analysts doubt the effectiveness of such tactics. BusinessWeek reports that a Roper poll, released in August, found that only 4 in 10 Americans say they're willing to pay more for a product that benefits the environment.
Others criticize Greenpeace's methodology. John Timmer, writing for the tech blog Ars Technica, says Greenpeace relied too heavily on corporate statements and not enough on empirical research. He writes that Nintendo's failing grade is the result of having insufficient information on its website, not their manufacturing practices. "But," he writes, "if some companies respond to the bad publicity by expanding recycling programs and ensuring that they're easy to use, then it's possible that something useful will come out of it."