32870361_mManufacturers of electronics can be evaluated on the direct ecological impact of their industrial processes and products. Electronic devices are frequently made with toxic chemicals and metals that are released into the environment during the product use cycle, including polyvinyl chloride, phthalates, and brominated flame retardants.[1] Such chemicals have been linked to cancer, reproductive problems, and learning deficits in children.[2] Notably, chemicals such as fire retardants migrate out of plastic into the environment, where they enter the body primarily by breathing contaminated dust or by touching your mouth or food after accumulating contaminated dust on your hands.[3]

Follow these general tips for reducing exposure to toxic chemicals used in electronics:

  • Ensure that your child does not put electronic devices in his/her mouth (e.g., cell phone).
  • Maintain a dust-free environment in your home, office, and car by cleaning at least once per week and using an air filter. Ensure that your vacuum has a HEPA filter.
  • Wash your hands to remove contaminated dust from your hands prior to eating.


Take Action: Support Companies that are Reducing the Use of Toxins

Greenpeace publishes an annual Guide to Greener Electronics that examines a company’s commitments in such areas as using renewable energy, creating products without toxic chemicals and metals, and allowing consumers to return electronics after use.[4] While companies are rated on a scale that ranges from 0 to 10, it is notable that only one company has attained a score higher than 6, and no company has scored higher than 7.[5] A high scoring company is thus relatively better than others and should be supported by consumers. But many improvements have yet to be made even by high performers.

We examined the Greenpeace ratings and divided manufacturers into one of three categories with a priority focus on toxic materials avoidance. Four companies, termed Current Leaders, are also making progress in other dimensions of sustainable manufacturing, including Wipro, HP, Nokia, and Acer. Two companies, characterized as Minimally Acceptable, had at least average performance on the toxic materials scale, but did not perform as well on other dimensions: Apple and Phillips. Most companies, though, fell into the Worst Offender category, companies that show little interest in how they are affecting human health and the environment.


Current Leaders: Companies with a green performance score of at least 5 out of 10


Minimally Acceptable: Lower performers but average performance on toxic materials avoidance


Worst Offenders: Companies with below-average performance on toxic materials avoidance

  • Dell
  • HCL
  • Lenovo
  • LGE
  • Panasonic
  • RIM
  • Samsung
  • Sharp
  • Sony
  • Toshiba


Video Pick: The Story of Electronics