Sustainability of office equipment and domestic appliances

Source: Oekom, 10 June 2002

A printer should be fast and a fridge as quiet as possible. But how much power does my fast printer consume? And what coolants are used in my fridge? In a "Corporate Responsibility Rating, the Munich-based rating agency oekom research has assessed the worlds top 16 manufacturers of office equipment and domestic appliances according to 200 environmental and social criteria. The study showed two Japanese companies leading the field: on a scale from A+ to D-, Ricoh and Toshiba achieved scores of B+ and B respectively. The Swedish manufacturer Electrolux took third place with a B-. Sanyo Electric from Japan came last, with a rating of D+.
With detailed environmental reports and advanced environmental management systems, companies in this sector performed outstandingly well in the environmental part of the study. Ricoh and Toshiba now also demand high environmental standards from their suppliers and monitor whether these are observed in practice. The design of products, too, is progressive. "The equipment can be dismantled and easily and quickly upgraded. This prolongs its useful life and can stem the flood of obsolete equipment a little", says Frank Werner, the analyst heading the study at oekom research.

It is not only the enormous quantities of obsolete equipment that present a problem, but also their disposal. In the disposal process, heavy metals like lead, cadmium or chromium VI enter the soil and, through the food chain, the human body. If taken up in doses that are too high, they can be carcinogenic and genetically harmful and can trigger allergies.

Few people are aware of the fact that many companies in the sector are also active in the area of renewable energies. Sharp, for example, is the worlds largest manufacturer of solar cells, and Hitachi and Matsushita build wind power stations and manufacture fuel cells.

While the sector was given a B- in the environmental section of the study, in the social section it scored a full grade lower with a C-. Social reports are a rarity, and socially acceptable staff redundancy programmes are non-existent. And that despite the fact that all the companies except Ricoh have made extensive cutbacks in their staff numbers in the last year.

Women in management positions are the exception, particularly in Japanese companies. Only 0.5 per cent of the top executive positions at Toshiba and Sharp are occupied by women. For the purposes of comparison, their American rival Xerox manages to achieve a figure of 31 per cent.

"Despite a poor social performance, the overall results of the study are encouraging. With an average score of C+, manufacturers of office equipment and domestic appliances showed themselves to be more progressive than companies in many other sectors," says Frank Werner.

16 companies were analysed in the present Corporate Responsibility Rating:

Canon (JP), Electrolux (SE), Hitachi (JP), Matsushita Electric Industrial (JP), Mitsubishi Electric (JP), Océ (NL), Philips Electronics (NL), Ricoh (JP), Samsung Electronics (KR), Sanyo (JP), Sharp (JP), Sony (JP), Toshiba (JP), Xerox (US). Two companies did not provide any information: NCR (US) and Whirlpool (US).