It's not easy being green

Despite the best intentions, it’s still very hard for computer manufacturers to reduce their carbon emissions and water usage. Take HP as an example. Figures on the company's website reveal its carbon footprint increased by 5% in 2019 over 2018, reaching nearly 46.79 million tonnes of CO2.

HP said that “a 12% increase in product manufacturing emissions — due largely to business growth and changes in the mix of key personal systems products and components — more than offset a 3% reduction in product use phase emissions driven by improved product energy efficiency.” That statement reveals the struggle manufacturers face in trying to balance business growth with a reduction in carbon emissions. In 2019, HP seemed to be losing that battle. The big question is whether it can win over the long term.

At first sight there was some good news concerning HP’s water footprint which decreased to just over 249 million cubic metres, 3% lower than in 2018, “due to reductions in direct and indirect water consumption associated with HP’s global operations and HP product use.” But that reduction failed to redress the balance when set against a big increase from 2017 to 2018. As a result, the figure for 2019 was still over 5% higher than it was in 2017.

Closer inspection of the water footprint figures reveal that most of the reduction in 2019 came from a decrease in the water consumption associated with the generation of electricity used by HP products. But the figure in 2019 was still 3.6% higher than it was in 2017.

The supply chain seems to be the most difficult area for HP to make significant progress meeting the sustainability targets it set for 2025. While Company greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and Product Use GHG emissions seem to be on the way to achieving the goals set for 2025 – or at least close to them – the target of a 10% reduction in first-tier production supplier and product transportation-related GHG seems to be receding into the distance. As the HP report admits: “GHG emissions intensity remained flat through 2018, compared to 2015.”

It looks as if the goal for using recycled plastic is also proving tougher than predicted. HP set a target of 30% post-consumer recycled content plastic across its portfolio by 2025 but only reached 9% in 2019. Trying to eliminate single-use plastic packaging is proving a hard nut to crack. The company had set a target of a 75% reduction by 2025 but only achieved 5% in 2019. On the other hand, the plan to recycle 1.2 million tonnes of hardware and supplies by 2025 appears closer with the company reaching 528,300 tonnes in 2019.

HP president and CEO Enrique Lores highlighted that the work HP is doing on sustainability “isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s also good for our bottom line. In 2019, our Sustainable Impact work helped drive more than US$1.6 billion in new sales—a testament to the high-performance, purpose-driven culture that unites our people and our partners.”

He concluded: “While the road ahead will be difficult, I’m confident in our ability to drive meaningful and lasting change…But HP can’t do it alone. No company can. Which is why it is encouraging and inspiring to see so many companies, governments, and NGOs finding new ways to work together on shared solutions. Ultimately, that’s how we will overcome the challenges we face and create a more sustainable, equitable, and just society.”

Lores is right of course but it would help if computer vendors, electronics manufacturers, oil companies and the aviation sector, to name a few, worked just a little bit harder to reverse climate change and help create that society.