Customers aren't the only ones taking notes. Greenpeace International has taken on this issue in its quarterly "Guide to Greener Electronics" report (download PDF) , which ranks consumer electronics companies based on their efforts to reduce toxins in their products, and on their programs for taking back and recycling products.
The June 2008 report for the first time considered the manufacturers' efforts to increase their products' energy efficiency. That report, issued June 25, lists Sony Ericsson and Sony Corp. as leaders among the 18 companies ranked. However, the report gave those two a score of just over 5 on a scale of 1 to 10. The majority of the ranked companies fell between 4 and 5.
Despite such mediocre marks, the industry has made strides to do better by the environment.
Casey Harrell, a toxics activist at Greenpeace, says many manufacturers have made their product lines more environmentally friendly in just the past few years.
"We have significantly greener mobile phones, laptops and PDAs than we had three or four years ago," he says. He credits such successes to technology advances, the development of alternative materials, legislative requirements and customer demands.
"Almost all [the manufacturers] are doing design for the environment to some extent, but there are companies that are certainly more progressive than others," says Kate Sinding, a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council in New York.
Fujitsu Computer Systems Corp. in Sunnyvale, Calif., is working on several fronts toward its goal of developing greener products.
One initiative is the four-year-old Super Green Products program, says Richard McCormack, the company's senior vice president of marketing. Products earn the Super Green designation if they're best in class in several areas: They must use less energy, avoid hazardous substances and incorporate the three R's -- reduce, reuse, recycle -- in their design and technology.
McCormack cites Fujitsu's Primergy TX120 server as an example. The server takes less space, consumes less energy, and produces less heat and noise than standard servers, yet it has the same memory and storage capacity as bigger models. It's also designed for easy disassembly and separation of materials that can then be reused in other products, he says. (The trade-off is that it has fewer optional components and more fixed ones, notes McCormack.)
Fujitsu has also developed biodegradable plastics that have less of an environmental impact than traditional plastics, which are harder to reuse than other components of electronic goods, McCormack says. The company has used biodegradables in certain notebook PCs since 2002. And in 2006, it developed a flexible bio-plastic using castor oil; that material is now used in PCs and cell phones.