Apple was the only firm to have committed to 100% renewables in its supply chain © AFLO/PA Images
Apple was the only firm to have committed to 100% renewables in its supply chain © AFLO/PA Images

Tech supply chain driving demand for dirty energy

The technology supply chain continues to drive demand for unclean energy, Greenpeace has said.

Nearly all of the top technology manufacturers are failing to address their supply chain’s dependence on unclean energy, despite having made “impressive” progress in powering their offices and datacentres with renewables.

Manufacturing accounts for more than 70-80% of the lifetime carbon footprint of electronic devices, Greenpeace said. Yet, only one firm, Apple, has committed to 100% renewables in its supply chain, it said.

Samsung was singled out for “holding the sector back” by not committing to using 100% renewables because of its size and importance. Not only is it one of the largest smartphone manufacturers, but it is also a major supplier of key components to other brands.

The findings were released in Greenpeace USA’s Guide to Greener Electronics, which scored 17 of the top electronics manufacturers for their green credentials.

Dutch manufacturer Fairphone, with a focus on reducing environmental damage, topped the list, followed by Apple. Huawei, Samsung and Amazon all received some of the lowest ratings.

No firm scored Greenpeace’s top A-grade on sustainability.

“Behind this innovative 21st-century technology lie supply chain and manufacturing processes still reliant on nineteenth-century sources of energy, dangerous mining practices, hazardous chemicals, and poorly designed products,” the report said.

“This hidden reality stands in stark contrast to the forward-thinking, environmentally conscious image most IT companies project.”

The report looked at three key factors: energy use, resource consumption and use of hazardous chemicals, with the company’s operations graded on transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts.

In general there was a lack of transparency, the report said. Most of the tech firms analysed failed to publish information on their suppliers, environmental performance or impact. Amazon was rated as one of the least transparent in terms of environmental performance as it did not report its direct greenhouse gas emissions and provided few details of its sourcing of recycled materials.

Of the 17, only six published a basic list of suppliers and of those just two, Dell and Fairphone, provided details of the products and services provided by each supplier. Chinese manufacturer Huawei, now one of the top three manufacturers, was the only firm to supply no information on its supply chain greenhouse emissions.

The Chinese firms have huge potential for environmental leadership, the report said, because of their growing market share – together Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi occupied a quarter of the global smartphone market in Q2 this year – but all scored below average on Greenpeace’s three key indicators.

Firms were also criticised for unsustainable product design and planned obsolescence. Apple, Microsoft and Samsung were all said to be “moving in the wrong direction” on sustainable design. There were some exceptions however, with HP, Dell and Fairphone making more products that were repairable and upgradeable. 

Worldwide electronic waste is expected to surpass 65m tons in 2017, the report said, and less that 16% of this waste is recycled.

Greenpeace’s greener electronics overall grades:

Fairphone B

Apple B-

Dell C+

HP C+

Lenovo C-

Microsoft C-

Acer D+

LG D+

Sony D+

Google D+

Huawei D

Asus D

Samsung D-

Amazon F

Oppo F

Vivo F

Xiaomi F

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