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?