Greenpeace Paints Toxic Symbol On HP HQ

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Ecology activists claim that IT giant Hewlett-Packard is doing an about-face on its public statements about eliminating key toxic chemicals in its printers, computers, servers and storage products by the end of 2009

Greenpeace activists snuck past Hewlett-Packard security guards on 28 July to paint a large “Hazardous Products” sign on the roof of the IT system maker’s main building in Palo Alto, Calif., in a public effort to call out the company for what it sees as a corporate about-face on the use of toxic materials in its products.

Greenpeace has claimed that HP is backtracking on its public commitment to eliminate key toxic elements in its printers, computers, servers and storage products by the end of 2009.

The message, “Hazardous Products”—a term that plays on the company’s initials—was applied using “nontoxic children’s finger paint to cover over 11,500 square feet of HP’s roof,” or “roughly the size of two-and-a-half basketball courts,” according to Greenpeace.

A number of HP employees also found that they had received voice mail messages from actor William Shatner scolding the company and telling it to phase out toxic materials in the product line.

The HP building on Hanover Street near the Stanford University campus is a company showplace often used for corporate events, such as high-level meetings, product launches and press conferences.

Greenpeace said it has staged similar demonstrations at HP offices in China and Holland.

“HP continues to put hazardous products on the market,” Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner Casey Harrell said in a statement to the press. “Apple has led the sector in phasing out of these toxic chemicals. HP should be following Apple’s lead, instead of breaking its commitment and delaying action.”

In a blog post on the Greenpeace Website entitled, “Finger-Painting for a Good Cause,” Greenpeace member Michelle Frey wrote, “Greenpeace is tired of hearing excuses from HP. They are backtracking on their commitment to eliminate PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from their products by the end of 2009. Instead, they are extending the time frame two more years until they go green.

“If Apple can produce electronics that are virtually free of PVC and completely BFR-free—what is the hold-up for HP?”

In its long corporate life, HP has been ecology-minded, going back to the 1970s when it put more efficient power supplies in its network printers, offered holistic data center design for environmental strategies and promoted energy-efficient operations throughout a supply chain. See this eWEEK story from October 2008 for a list of the company’s green IT initiatives and accomplishments.

An HP spokesperson issued the following statement about 3 hours after eWEEK asked for comment:

“For decades HP has been a leader in environmental responsibility and has adopted practices in product development, operations and supply chain that are transparent and help to reduce its environmental impact. HP has a comprehensive approach to environmental sustainability, with three main components: minimizing our impact; helping our customers to improve their environmental performance; and driving towards a sustainable, low-carbon economy.

“This commitment includes reducing the use of BFR/PVC in our products until these materials are eliminated entirely. HP has introduced several new computing products this year that use less BFR/PVC than previous generations. This September HP will release a BFR/PVC free notebook. By fall 2010 all new commercial PC products released will be BFR/PVC free. By the end of 2011 all new PC products released will be free of BFR/PVCs.

“The unconstructive antics at HP’s headquarters today did nothing to advance the goals that all who care about the environment share. HP will continue its efforts to develop new products and programs around the globe that help the company, its business partners and customers conserve energy, reduce materials use and reduce waste through responsible reuse and recycling. HP supports industry efforts to eliminate BFR and PVC because of potential e-waste issues. HP is a worldwide leader in e-waste recycling. HP has recycled one billion pounds of electronic products from 1987-2007 and has committed to recycling another billion pounds between 2008-2011.”

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