Increasing pressure on IT hardware companies to make manufacturing and end products greener is beginning to bite, according to environmental campaigner Greenpeace.
The group claims that most companies have demonstrated some commitment to more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes such as eliminating the use of toxic chemicals.
"We are witnessing a global shift towards greener PCs with Acer and Lenovo — two major producers of PCs — committing to eliminate the use of the most hazardous chemicals from their product range," said Iza Kruszewska, Greenpeace International's toxics campaigner.
However, despite the progress made by some hardware makers — tracked by Greenpeace in its Guide to Greener Electronics — Apple continues to lag behind when it comes to environmental manufacturing, according to the pressure group.
"In sharp contrast, Apple is awarded the last position because the company has made absolutely no improvements to its policies or practices since the ranking was first released three months ago, although most of its competitors have improved environmental policies," said Kruszewska. "Despite being the world leader in innovation and design, Apple is losing the race by failing to keep up with the other companies."
Despite the Greenpeace ranking, Apple continues to defend its green credentials. Commenting on an earlier version of the ranking issued in August, the company said: "Apple has a strong environmental track record and has led the industry in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, as well as many BFRs (brominated flame retardants). We have also completely eliminated CRT monitors, which contain lead, from our product line."
Nokia is the most progressive hardware maker according to Greenpeace, and continues to hold the top spot in the Greener Electronics ranking. But although the Finnish mobile handset maker earned praise for its chemicals policy and disposal of its products, it still has work to do when it comes to phasing out the use of PVC in its products.
The issue of green tech and e-waste was debated at a United Nations-sponsored event in Nairobi last week. Around 120 governments gathered in the Kenyan capital for week-long talks on how to reduce the use of toxic substances such as lead and mercury, which are commonly found in PCs and mobiles.
The UN estimates that up to 50 million tonnes of "e-waste" is generated worldwide every year.
Speaking at the first day of the event, Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said that around 100,000 computers a month are entering the Nigerian port of Lagos alone.
"If these were good quality, secondhand pieces of equipment this would perhaps be a positive trade of importance for development," he said. "But local experts estimate that between a quarter to 75 percent of these items including old TVs, CPUs and phones are defunct — in other words e-waste; in other words long-distance dumping from developed country consumers and companies to an African rubbish tip or landfill."
Steiner said that agreement on what constitutes waste compared to secondhand products was a major issue that had to be tackled to prevent developing nations from being used as a dumping ground for old technology from more mature economies.
Tony Roberts, chief executive of UK IT refurbishment charity Computer Aid, which regularly sends shipments of re-conditioned PCs to Africa, agreed that a clear distinction needs to be made between dumping e-waste and donating first-class second-hand PCs.
"Computer Aid is 100 percent against dumping. We want to drive the e-waste cowboys out of business," he said. "We believe that only the highest-quality, professionally refurbished PCs should be going to developing countries."
Roberts added that Computer Aid only ships Pentium3 and Pentium4 PCs that have been professionally refurbished. Old Pentium 1 or Pentium 2 computers and any defective kit is recycled — entirely within the EC.
Note: the author of this article is involved in fundraising for Computer Aid and is taking part in a 400km cycle challenge in February 2007 to raise money to equip schools in Kenya with refurbished PCs.