Ask Pablo

I confess: I am addicted to the latest tech gadgets. Can I be green too?

Topics: Environment, Global Warming

Dear Pablo,

Like many people in my generation, I am both a technophile and an environmentalist. Can I have the latest gadgets and be green?

I think you may have discovered the quandary of Generation Y (or is it “Why?”). How do we reconcile our visions for a more sustainable world with that uncontrollable urge to bring everything shiny and electronic back to our nests? The most sustainable answer, of course, is to address the root of this perceived need. Do I really need it? Can I borrow one? Can I rent one? Can I fix my old one? Can I play with it for hours at the Apple store until the novelty wears off?

Assuming that the answer to all of these questions is no, and that you have justified the acquisition of this gadget in your highly rational cranium (“But look, Mom, it will save me gas”), where does that leave us? I could just end my answer there, but I think that there is still a chance that you will make a more environmentally friendly decision.

To help answer your question, I will turn to the recently released ninth edition of “Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics.” The guide aims to help you reduce toxic substances and encourage end-of-life product take-back and recycling, essentially mirroring the efforts of the European Union’s RoHS (reduction of hazardous substances) and WEEE (waste electronic and electrical equipment) directives. Since the initial guide came out in 2006, the requirements on the reduction of toxic substances have been increased and criteria have been added to improve corporate policies and practices with respect to climate and energy.

Over the years, the field of companies included in this guide has slowly moved in a positive direction, while some companies advanced more than others, or even worsened their environmental performance. Most notably, longtime environmental laggard Apple has moved up from an overall ranking of 2.7 (out of 10) to a 4.1 in the current report. With a new line of iPods, which have eliminated many of the toxic substances previously found in its products, Apple seems to be on the green path, or at least heading in the right direction.

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When you go out to buy your new gadget, review the rankings of companies in the Greenpeace guide and remember a few things:

  • Find products that comply with the E.U.’s RoHS law. This should be clearly identified on the packaging or on the product itself.
  • Look for companies that feature end-of-life take-back and recycling programs. No one wants his old computer or cellphone to end up in a landfill or an incinerator.
  • Support companies that have made an effort to reduce their packaging and whose packaging is made from recycled and recyclable materials.
  • Compare the energy use of comparable products. Appliances or electronics that consume a lot of energy will cause the most environmental harm by being used rather than in their manufacture, so make sure that they have an Energy Star label or otherwise perform more efficiently than other options.
  • Make sure that the product is durable. Even if a broken product is covered by warranty and is replaced at no cost to you, the environmental impact of your gadget’s production is now doubled.

    Familiarizing yourself with the environmental performance of companies and their products, as well as remembering these few tips, will enable you to make an informed decision that will help protect the environment and still allow you to feed your gadget need.

  • Got a question about the environment? Ask Pablo at AskPablo@Salon.com.

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