Greenpeace criticises Amazon’s lack of transparency, highlights dangers of mining

18 Oct 2017

Greenpeace member. Image: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock

Amazon was among the major names that Greenpeace criticised in its recent report.

Environmental charity Greenpeace researched 17 dominant tech companies in its Guide To Greener Electronics 2017 report, ranking their practices across use of recycled materials, reduction of emissions through renewable energy sources and elimination of hazardous chemicals.

Greenpeace noted that although our lives have been changed in many positive ways thanks to advances in tech, reliance on dangerous mining practices, chemicals and poorly designed products are a “hidden reality” that contrast with the forward-thinking image many of these companies enjoy projecting.

Greenpeace report card

Greenpeace’s report card for tech companies. Infographic: Greenpeace

Amazon not transparent enough

Amazon received an overall F grade, meaning it has far more to do to address its environmental impacts.

The report was critical of Amazon’s lack of transparency in terms of its environmental performance, citing its refusal to report the greenhouse gas footprint of its own operations. Greenpeace said it doesn’t provide enough detail regarding sourcing of recycled materials, nor does it publish any restrictions on hazardous chemicals in its devices or supply chain.

Amazon is not the only one at fault, though. As we recently reported, Samsung’s heavy reliance on fossil fuels puts an undue burden on the planet’s resources, with the report noting that only 1pc of energy used to create its products in 2016 came from renewable sources.

“Samsung is both the largest manufacturer of smartphones worldwide and a supplier of key components to many of the other brands in the guide, yet the company is holding the sector back by failing to tackle its climate change responsibility by committing to 100pc renewable energy for its operations.”

The report also called out the practice of planned obsolescence implemented by many companies, which accelerates device replacement cycles by “making them difficult to service or upgrade, shortening the useful life of otherwise functional devices. Apple, Microsoft and Samsung are among the companies moving in the wrong direction on sustainable product design.”

Mining dangers

Greenpeace dove further to highlight the dangers involved in mining minerals commonly used in our smart devices. “Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people who work in the mining sector do so at great risk to their health and safety as they dig for ever-harder-to-reach natural resources.

“Cobalt, the mineral used in many batteries for portable electronics, is often mined in small-scale operations in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where miners often lack basic protective equipment, and potentially fatal hazards exist, such as insufficient ventilation and collapse of underground pits.”

Positive notes

Overall, Apple, Fairphone, Dell and HP are leading the charge when it comes to tech sustainability measures. Fairphone was founded in 2013, and aims to develop smartphones that “have a minimal environmental impact, do not contain conflict minerals, engage in fair labour practices, and help extend the life of the device”.

Oppo, Vivo and Xiaomi scored the lowest across all three categories.

Greenpeace recommended that companies take more responsibility for the supply chain, design more sustainable products and take responsibility for refurbishment, recycling of devices and e-waste systems.

Greenpeace member. Image: Tomasz Bidermann/Shutterstock

Updated, 2.07pm, 18 October 2017: The headline of this article has been amended to remove a reference to Samsung and replace it with mining.

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects