Has Greenpeace Gone Too Far?

IPC President Denny McGuirk’s February 1 column from the IPC Intouch Newsletter:

It seemed like a good idea at the time: Use publicity to nudge electronics companies toward better environmental performance. Identify the best or “greenest” companies, with the idea that consumers will reward these companies with their support. With their “dashboard,” Greenpeace took the idea one step further, focusing not just on the best performers, but the worst. It turned out to be a highly effective tool. Consumer electronics companies, concerned about their public image, worked hard to avoid being put in the bottom tier of the companies with the worst environmental performance.

The criteria seem reasonable enough, demanding that companies:

  • Clean up their products by eliminating hazardous substances.
  • Take back and recycle their products responsibly once they become obsolete.
  • Reduce the impact on the climate of their operations and products.

Unfortunately, in the most recent dashboard report, Greenpeace goes one step too far. Strategically hidden on the fourteenth page of the dashboard criteria explanation is the following effort to curtail free speech and deny the scientific process:

“… requiring companies to also actively lobby for the addition of an end-of-life methodology for further restrictions of hazardous substances and for organochlorines and organobromines to be added to the list of substances already banned by the EU RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances in electronics) Directive, currently being revised (RoHS 2.0).”
(Ranking Criteria Explained, January 2010, Greenpeace)

Greenpeace is not just asking companies that want a good rating to remove these substances from their products; they are asking them to lobby for regulations to require ALL companies to remove these substances. Companies not lobbying for Greenpeace’s viewpoint lose points. If companies do not agree with the Greenpeace viewpoint and do not speak out for fear of retribution, the result is censorship. It may also put companies into a position of speaking out for something they do not support in order to get points, stifling their real positions and moving further away from regulations based on actual science.

Greenpeace’s current efforts with regard to revision of the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive support a ban on all organochlorines and organobromines — not a particular chemical that has been tested and shown to be harmful, but a whole class of chemicals. Perhaps Greenpeace is resorting to bullying tactics instead of relying on a scientific examination because they know the science does not support their position. In fact, an extensive and thorough risk assessment recently conducted by the European Union found that the use of Tetrabromobisphenol(a) (TBBPA), an organobromine and the most common flame retardant in printed boards, does not pose a danger to human health or the environment.

Certainly, electronics products should be designed with the least hazardous materials available on the market that will perform reliably while minimizing their environmental impact throughout the lifecycle of the product. Some materials we’ve used in the past may very well need to be restricted. IPC has been a leading participant in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) EnvironDesign for the Environment program to identify the most environmentally friendly materials for surface finishes, soldering, and flame retardancey, to name a few.

That same commitment to scientifically sound environmental initiatives requires us to continue to speak out about using scientific information as a basis and to use the already established REACH methodology so regulation isn’t arbitrary. We have also written about focusing on the entire life cycle of the substance in actual use and taking a hard look at the viability of alternates for the chemicals proposed for restriction. Most importantly, IPC continues to call for an honest dialog that depends on facts and evidence. Anything else goes too far.

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