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Amazon and Samsung among 'least green' tech firms - but do we care?

Thursday, October 19th 2017 by Phil Wilkinson-Jones

Amazon and Samsung have been named among the least environmentally friendly tech companies in the world – but do consumers care?

Greenpeace ranked 17 of the world’s leading consumer electronics firms on what they are doing to address their environmental impacts.

Amazon sits at the bottom of the list alongside Chinese smartphone makers Xiaomi, Oppo and Vivo.

Greenpeace describes Amazon as “one of the least transparent companies in the world” in the Guide to Greener Electronics.

Apparently it “refuses to report the greenhouse gas footprint of its own operations” and publishes no restrictions on hazardous chemicals being used in its devices or supply chain.

The world’s two biggest smartphone manufacturers – Samsung and Huawei – don’t fare much better.

Greenpeace says Samsung is “holding the sector back” by its failure to commit to renewable energy sources while Huawei “has yet to realise its tremendous potential in environmental leadership”.

Fairphone, which makes ethically sourced smartphones, tops Greenpeace’s list and is praised for the modular design of its product that makes it easy to repair and upgrade.

Apple also ranks well and the report acknowledges its “leadership in reducing the impact of its supply chain on the planet” but is critical of its latest devices, which Greenpeace says are “difficult, if not impossible to repair or upgrade”.

The Fairphone 2's modular design makes it easy to repair

Household names Sony, Google, LG and Microsoft also come in for criticism by the report but while there’s no doubting the importance of the issues being discussed here, do consumers actually take notice of this sort of thing?

Well, Unilever carried out research into this exact subject at the back end of last year and published its findings in January.

Its poll of 20,000 adults found that 33% are choosing to buy from brands they believe are doing social or environmental good.

Unilever focussed on the positive and highlighted “the €966bn opportunity [that] exists for brands that make their sustainability credentials clear”.

But doesn't it also suggest the vast majority of consumers (77%) are looking at factors other than brands’ environmental impact when making purchasing decisions?

You’d have to suspect that price, quality and convenience are more prevalent factors for consumers deciding how and where to spend their money.

The haste with which people signed Uber’s petition to reinstate its taxi license in London despite well-known ethical concerns over its practices shows just what people will overlook for a cheap and convenient service.

People may say they want ethical products, but do they put their money where their mouth is?

Online sourcing company Trade Extensions polled UK and US consumers in 2014 and found that 80% believe it is important for brands to behave ethically.

But asked to rank the importance of ethics alongside other considerations, it came below price, value for money, quality and convenience.

Amazon says it is 'constantly looking for ways' to reduce is environmental impact

So are people really going to turn away from Amazon because of concerns over its greenhouse gas emissions or its supply chain? It seems unlikely. The company has gone from strength to strength despite a reputation for paying low levels of corporation tax.

It may well have taken a hit to its reputation, but around a third of UK households are thought to be Amazon Prime members and about 77% of Brits who shop online say Amazon has affected their shopping behaviour.

Greenpeace itself acknowledges that change won’t come overnight and putting people off using the companies in question isn’t really the point of its report, it’s more of a call to action.

“Now is the time for the tech sector to channel its expertise into reinventing the way that electronic devices are made and used in society,” it says.

“To reverse the ever-increasing consumption of the planet’s finite resources and reliance on fossil fuels, creating a circular and renewably powered business model that other sectors can follow.”

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