Does Green Matter to You?
Is it more important to look green or to actually live green? Four tech companies -- Apple, Lenovo, Sony and HP -- have undertaken some green initiatives, but their images do not match their efforts. In fact, Apple, which has the least-aggressive green agenda of the four, seems to get the most credit, while HP, which is greener by far, gets the least. The big question is, who cares?
09/07/09 4:00 AM PT
I'm at IFA as I write this, and in Europe, green clearly does matter. Here, they even have a viable Green Party, but in the U.S., I sometimes wonder whether we care. This was showcased in a presentation in which Sony ranked geographical areas in terms of the importance of green, and the U.S. came in last.
This week I thought I'd list the green efforts of four vendors, each of which has green initiatives, and ask you the question: Which approach matters to you? This is pertinent, because the vendor I personally think is the greenest -- HP -- was recently attacked by Greenpeace for waffling on a promise to remove some toxic chemicals from its PCs. Greenpeace even did a stunt with "Star Trek's" William Shatner, having him leave robocall voicemail messages for many HP employees.
I'll close with my product of the week: Digital Studio 2010 -- a new offering from Corel that comes the closest of anything I've ever seen to what I think iLife should be for a PC.
Apple tried to ignore the green effort entirely, and as a result, Greenpeace used it as a near-constant punching bag for most of the last decade. Dragged kicking and screaming into the movement, Apple represents that it has removed the vast majority of toxic chemicals from its desktops. It has effectively gamed the system. While it looks similar to other vendors in terms of content, it doesn't have much of a disposal program -- and since it doesn't have removable batteries for its laptops anymore, safely disposing of them would be relatively expensive.
Apple does the minimum to get off the Greenpeace hit list, and it is -- in terms of measured content -- relatively green. Still, compared to some other vendors, it really isn't even on the same planet. Yet with a minimal investment, it can say it is green, and it's hard to argue with its margins and success.
Next up is Lenovo, which matches Apple in terms of getting rid of hostile chemicals but has an aggressive disposal program. It goes to great lengths to use recycled materials when building its products, and it ships them in environmentally safe packaging, which, while not as attractive as Apple's, is vastly easier to recycle. Going Green is kind of a religion at Lenovo, and it goes to great lengths to think through things it can do from a product standpoint to be green.
It is aggressive with power conservation in its products as well, and it has a number of unique tools not only to show savings, but also to minimize the energy used when one of its desktop or laptop computers is in use.
In other words, Lenovo isn't gaming the system. It is aggressively delivering green products -- but at the moment, its effort is just product-focused. Still, it has generally ranked toward the top in terms of green vendors, according to Greenpeace. In the end, despite its much larger commitment, it doesn't seem to get any additional benefit or consideration than Apple does.
Sony: Living Green
Sony is consumer-focused and, like Apple, isn't as aggressive about packing materials as Lenovo is. However, it has been very aggressive in removing toxic materials from all of its products. It goes one large step further, in that it has converted most of its physical plants to run on renewable energy. It seems to have a very high-level focus not only on building green products, but also on operating as a green company.
This is a company now tightly tying its image to the concept of saving the planet. It took up a good deal of its presentation at the IFA conference to talk about its efforts to live a green corporate life.
Once again, here's a case of a massive company-wide effort ranging from products to how it runs its physical sites, but I don't see Sony getting any more credit than Apple does. In fact, I wonder how many people actually are aware of how impressively green Sony is.
HP: Green Squared
HP, in my mind, stands above this crowd because it has taken the green concept into HP labs and tied it to its future. It is aggressively instrumenting all aspects of its business to get the data it needs so it can invest its funds in ways that will have the greatest impact on the environment as well as its bottom line. HP has been the most outspoken about the concept that going green actually can increase bottom-line performance, and it has one of the most widespread disposal programs for everything from PCs to printers.
HP was recently humiliated for not meeting an aggressive goal to remove some of the toxic materials in its PCs, but this should have been offset by its other green activities -- which appear to significantly exceed other companies with respect to demonstrated results from conservation and corporate green efforts.
My own view is that by making green efforts profitable, HP has likely done more to sustain itself during hard financial times than anything else it could do. When given a choice, most firms would choose saving money over being green. By making it possible to do both, the choice isn't as much of an issue.
However, instead of getting credit for what it did accomplish, HP was pounded for what it didn't achieve -- and, thanks to Greenpeace, it likely appears less green than Apple as a result. In short, HP worked harder but got less credit. The real irony is that some of the material it was pounded for using, BFR, is common in all vendors' power supplies -- which Greenpeace apparently doesn't consider -- because there is no viable substitute for it, and it prevents these power supplies from catching fire. Oh, and the other material, PVC, well, we use that for sprinkler pipes in the U.S. in massive volumes. HP recycles it; sprinkler pipes, not so much.
Each company has a different approach to going green. Apple does the minimum necessary to get by, while Lenovo, Sony and HP, to different degrees, have made green tech a major initiative. The question for you is this: Do you care?
Many of my peers argue that the Apple approach is actually the best because you mostly don't care, and gaming a system is generally the best way to accomplish a difficult goal that is more PR- than results-focused at the moment.
I fully get that perception trumps reality, but this kind of thing makes me wonder about whether we will survive -- or even if we should.
Product of the Week: Corel Digital Studio 2010
Apple's iLife is a beautifully crafted product. It does a few simple things that folks want to do with images, and it does them well.
I've often thought that there needs to be something similar for the Windows platform, and Corel appears to have created it with its Digital Studio 2010 product.
If you aren't a pro, but you're into pictures or movies and need to improve them, build stories, or file them in a way that allows you to find them, this is a wonderful offering.
Corel put massive work into making this thing Apple-easy, and you should never really have to open an instruction book. Digital Studio costs US$99 and provides good photo- and video-editing tools, as well as a good library-management tool.
You can actually build some rather impressive looking video products with a blend of pictures and videos in a few short minutes.
I've seen few software products that are as brilliantly developed, so the Corel Digital Studio 2010 is my product of the week.
Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.