Greenwashing Versus Voluntary Pollution Prevention: A Test Of Global Understanding

According to a Regional USEPA Office-issued press release, a Vishay Intertechnology Company site in Columbus, Nebraska USA (pictured) is 'getting the lead out' of its manufacturing process. The lead solder phase out is being done as a industry/government partnership project. Coincidence or not, getting the lead out of consumer electronic devices is a RoHS regulation-driven necessity in Europe: a fact that made it interesting to see the US-EPA press release wording. As posted to the US EPA Regional Office website in Kansas City, the phase out of lead solder was accomplished through, " The National Partnership for Environmental Priorities Program (NPEP) [which] encourages public and private organizations to form voluntary partnerships with EPA that reduce the use or release of any of 31 Priority Chemicals (PCs)". Note our bold emphasis of the word "voluntary."Several possible explanations come to mind. The simplest possibility: the Vishay operating site, as yet, sells no products into European markets. In which case, the term "voluntary" fits...maybe.

The press release is EPA's; and, to be clear, the Agency should have mentioned RoHS as a footnote, or better still given an explanation about what was voluntary about the project in the global context of RoHS and similar regulations affecting elecronic device design.

Is there another way that the partners might have thought of the phase out as "voluntary?" RoHS mandates that consumer products sold in the European Union not contain lead above a certain weight fraction. If they exceed the threshold number, a financial penalty is levied against the distributor. If the US operating site merely supplies electronics components that are assembled by other companies into consumer items for sale, the compliance obligation would be indirect. Not very convincing.

Thus, the first impression lingers: greenwash.

Does it make any sense to complain about bad impressions from a government press release? Progress is progress. Environmental exposure to lead is being reduced. Plus, we noticed elsehwere that this Vishay site had done a great job of looking into ways to prevent pollution and reduce energy consumption. Tell us what you think.

Tags: Electronics

Best of TreeHugger