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Canon Stumbles in Green Product Campaign in Asia

Leon Kaye | Thursday July 15th, 2010 | 6 Comments

Greenwashing apparently knows no boundaries, either geographically or by industry.  For example, Korean supermarket aisles boast products touting their “well-being” attributes, without explaining how they could possibly make anyone well.  The Shanghai Expo touts its green activities, as if all that frenzied construction could somehow be offset or mitigated.

The electronics manufacturer Canon has launched an ambitious green marketing program in Asia, which is smart marketing because consumers in the Pacific Rim region are becoming more aware of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues.  Or perhaps Canon’s marketing department realizes that such a program would receive a heavy dose of scrutiny in the Euro Zone or North America.

Canon’s GreenNation program touts the eco-friendliness and the energy efficiency of its products.  Starting in Japan, and spreading to the Philippines, the campaign aims to give Canon an advantage in the sustainably-manufactured electronics sweepstakes.  Other countries in the region will soon see Canon’s eco-friendly products at stores; others have already served as Canon’s test markets.  The company has already received kudos from what it claims is Malaysia’s first “green” scientific calculator.  Advocates who are pushing for more socially and environmentally responsible electronic goods, however, may raise their eyebrows at some of this message’s features.

First, Canon claims that a new line of printers has components made with recycled materials—a positive development, of course.  But then its company’s literature turns around and states that the exterior is actually made from biomass plastic—perhaps we are getting buried into semantics here, but at any rate, some may see Canon’s green manufacturing claims as dubious due to their inability to get their materials usage straight.

These same printers, according to Canon, also use electricity more efficiently.  Canon states that the devices use only 1 watt of power when at rest, or a 90% reduction—which addresses the dreaded “vampire effect,” in which electronic devices waste energy even when they are shut off or in hibernate mode.  But unless I am missing something (full disclosure, I am not an “early adopter”), this is supposedly true of most new electronic devices that companies release.  It sounds like Canon is boasting about a great feat that in reality is par for the course.

Finally, Canon is pushing its line of “eco-image” paper, which the company sources from eucalyptus trees.  True, eucalyptus grows like a weed, and can be harvested fairly quickly and replenishes easily.  It is also a feisty invasive species that has wreaked havoc in ecosystems around the globe—to the point that lawsuits have been filed to halt eucalyptus tree planting.  So while the plant fiber is a better option than others, those in the office greening world would posit that paper from post-consumer content is preferable.  Some would balk at the quality of such office paper, but others would argue that as we move towards paperless offices, a slightly different sheen on the paper is a small price to pay when we are talking about felling trees.

Consumer electronics companies have a long way to go before they can truly tout their products as good for the family.  Canon’s CEO is quoted as saying, “The success of taking care of the environment is not in the program, but on the people.” Such an attitude of shirking responsibility reveals a lot about the sincerity of the firm’s ESG efforts.  But even if it were true that the full onus for the environment falls on consumers, they did not make the choice to have component standards lack any sort of standardization; nor did they demand that iPods, digital cameras, and cell phones be designed to just pitch after a few months of use.  The short term cost of these products is low, but the long term price we pay in waste and toxins have got to be addressed.

Your call: Who’s at fault here:  consumers or manufacturers?


▼▼▼      6 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  • Surfie999

    I think the writer is as guilty of semantics as Canon is. Asia is the last bastion of poor environmental performance [ generally, but there are are wide variations]. Should we not be at least giving a small tick to efforts to improve?? Particulalry to a consumer group who are not especially focused on green virtues? Other needs dominate most aspects of life in asia, more related to fulfilling some basic needs.
    How experienced is the writer in living in Asia for example, and lets exclude the westernised major cities?

  • Leon

    Lived there almost 4 years and used to go there frequently for business–speak one of the languages well and gets by in another. And true, Asia is hardly homogenous. But more consumers there are becoming more eco-conscious, and electronics create huge heaps of waste. Finally, I'd watch the “westernize” comment–western dress and building design hardly makes a city and its people “western.”

  • Marc-Antoine Dunais

    The article strikes me as particularly harsh. Yes, Canon could be doing better (post-consumer recycled paper compared to eucalyptus) but that's true for a lot of companies out there, including for those that are walking the line. I would argue that pushing a green marketing campaign in Asia, especially in the Philippines, is a brave thing to do and should be encouraged. By all means let's scrutinize these efforts but let's also give credit where it is due…

  • http://greengopost.com Leon Kaye

    I don't see the article as harsh at all. But just saying something is not the same as doing something. It's not doing anything new–just putting a “green” spin on it.

  • Ko

    I think the writer is the one guilty of semantics. Canon (as well as several other Japanese companies) have have been actively working on development of Eco friendly technology and products, and on greening their company operations for years.

    This article does not make any substantial objective analysis of the product in terms of it’s improvement to previous models or compeating products, nor does the the author, in making a charge of “Greemail” address the environmenal activities or performance of Canon as a company.

    This is the type of superficial and irresponsible yellow journalism that discredits the Green Movement.

    I suggest the author or any other interested party vist the Canon Environmental homepage and review the contents in detail to understand what the company is doing to green it’s products and operations, including the use of recycled materials, reuse of parts (it was the first copier OEM to institute a cartridge reuse program) and bioplatics. The site includes much information on this.

    http://www.canon.com/environment/

    If the author is serious about the subject, he should do a little more research before holding others up to redicule with charges of “greenmail”.

    Mr. Kaye, you cast doubt on Canon’s “claims” to use recycled plastics and offer their use of bioplastics to cast doubt, a semantic assertion if there ever was one. Have you considered if they use BOTH recycled and bioplastics in these products? This is likely the case: recycled platics are othen used for interior “black” platic parts which may be the case here, and apperently Canon usess bioplastics for the exterior parts. There is no contradiction.

    Perhaps you could contact Canon to ask this question.

    And perhaps, in future, you could do a little more research on other products/companies before throwing around the charge of “Greemail”. I agree there is pleanty of that in this world, but there are responsible players as well, and I believe Canon is one.

  • Ko

    Perhaps you should consider the subject from this perspective:

    http://bigthink.com/ideas/20890

    Making products and processes “Green” is seldom a revolutionary step, but rather, the sum of a lot of incrimental changes.

    By slamming companies that are making the effort by makig accusations of “Greenmail”and holding them up to redicule, you contribute to the problem discussed in the linked video.

    For example, your article trivializes some of the incremental improvements Canon mentions in their advertising. The potential fallout from this is companies keep silent, the public is less informed and less knowledgeable about how products can be improved and have less information to make decisions.

    I suggest you reconsider how you approach this.

    Thank you.