Wal-Mart to Apply Green Ratings to PCs, Electronics

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Wal-Mart will apply green ratings across electronics products in the future, which could help consumers select environmentally friendly products, the company said Thursday.

Products like PCs and consumer electronics that the retailer carries will contain grades about sustainability in the product information, said Kory Lundberg, a Wal-Mart spokesperson. This will add transparency to the quality and environmental friendliness of products, and provide customers with product information that wasn't previously offered.

A final decision on how the green ratings will be delivered hasn't been made, but it could be in the form of a numeric score, color code or another label type, Wal-Mart said in a fact sheet published on its Web site on Thursday.

The green tags may start going on products in five years, Lundberg said. The ratings will be applied to PCs and other consumer electronics, and the retailer is currently in the process of researching ways of tagging those products. Wal-Mart expects all of its 100,000 suppliers, including PC and consumer electronics makers, to comply with the retailer's new goal, Lundberg said.

PC makers including Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Apple sell products through Wal-Mart. HP and Apple did not respond to requests for comment, but a Dell spokeswoman said the company is supporting Wal-Mart's efforts by providing feedback as the retailer develops the rating system.

"Wal-Mart is a great partner, and they're being very collaborative with partners as they develop this rating system," said Michelle Mosmeyer, a Dell spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

Wal-Mart aims to take a comprehensive look at the products -- from the raw material until end-of-life disposal options, based on which it will rate products. It is taking a three-step approach to rate sustainability, which could ultimately lead to higher quality and cheaper products for consumers.

The retailer is first sending questionnaires to its suppliers worldwide to answer questions about the suppliers' commitment to the environment, manufacturing efficiency and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The answers will be collectively researched by Wal-Mart in conjunction with partners, universities and nonprofit organizations, after which standards for the ratings will be set and applied.

Wal-Mart's green ratings could put pressure on PC and consumer electronics makers to ramp up environmental efforts, said Michael Kanellos, senior analyst and editor-in-chief at GreenTech Media. Wal-Mart gets its way as the world's largest retailer, so suppliers are likely to heed its "edict," as Kanellos called it, regarding green ratings.

"If you want to make money in retail, you have to be in Wal-Mart," Kanellos said.

Governments worldwide are also putting pressure on suppliers to make products that are sustainable, so Wal-Mart's request may provide extra impetus for suppliers to jump-start efforts to incorporate green business practices, Kanellos said. It may involve the cost of hiring consultants in the short term, but prove beneficial in the long term.

PC makers are already stepping up green efforts by offering free recycling and making PCs that draw less power. Nonprofits are also putting pressure on PC makers to reduce hazardous substances in hardware.

Green ratings may not weigh on PC or TV buyers as price and brand matter more, Kanellos said. The ratings will matter more in the area of appliances, especially energy-efficient light fixtures. In homes, lighting accounts for more of an electricity bill than electronics and PCs put together, Kanellos said.

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