Scoring the Green Electronics Scorecarders
Rating electronic vendors on how well they are doing environmentally, their green-wise-ness as it were, is a popular phenom these days. Currently there have been three attempts of note; the EPA took a crack at it with the EPEAT standard, Greenpeace gave a go with their Green Electronics Guide, and now we have yet another, the Climate Counts scorecard which rates vendors (not just electronic vendors, but they are included) on their climate change efforts. A quick site perusal reveals that the scales are not comparable; Samsung rates poorly on the Climate Counts page, yet does well on the EPEAT page, and is somewhere in the middle on the Greenpeace page. One (not just me) might wonder how to interpret the results; here is a short guide on inspecting the inspectors.
First, is the rating system inclusive or exclusive? An inclusive system allows every potential vendor to be rated, an exclusive system concentrates on a select set of vendors. Inclusive systems (such as EPEAT) are better because every manufacturer can get rated; if someone starts making LCD monitors in their garage tomorrow they can run through the scorecard and see how they stack up. Exclusive systems (Greenpeace, Climate Counts) focus on just a few companies, usually from a list they create themselves. This brings into question why that particular subset of the industry was chosen, and it is also difficult to change the group as time goes on - what would be the rationale?
Second, is the system participatory, meaning did the reviewees get a chance to comment on, and help create the rating system? For example, the EPA spent three years working with all the major computer vendors to create the EPEAT point-based rating system; Climate Counts did some of this it seems, and Greenpeace might have had a few meetings as well. However, I'm pretty sure the latter two didn't spend three years, and countless meetings with dozens of stakeholders developing their scorecards. Participatory standards have greater incentives for the manufacturers to participate, are generally more realistic, and have greater accountability as well.
Third, what is being measured and as a corollary, should you care? Treehugger's take on it is that Greenpeace rates environmental policy, Climate Counts rates greenhouse gas emissions, and EPEAT rates physical factors of particular products; choose the element(s) that are most important to you. Of course, some items such as revolutionary changes in design are missing from all the rating systems; Apple, for example, gets no credit for single-handedly creating the desktop publishing industry, saving billions of trees, or converting the entire music industry into digital format, saving billions of CD-ROMs. Again, if this is what you value you don't need a scorecard, you just follow the leader. :: Worldchanging :: Valleywag