Why Won’t Nintendo Go Green?

This month is Earth Month, and is as good a time as any to look at the efforts of video game companies around the world to ‘go green’. Greenpeace consistently updates its guide to greener electronics by ranking the top 18 electronic companies in the world, and Nintendo has been dead last for years. We spoke to Greenpeace representative Casey Harrel about the results, and what Nintendo could be doing to improve their dismal environmental record.

“Nintendo remains in last place,” reads the report, “with the same score of 1.8 out of 10.”

Dismal. In Greenpeace’s Guide to Greener Electronics, Nintendo has been dead last for years. Microsoft are only one spot ahead, but at least they appear to be making some semblance of effort. The issue with Nintendo, according to Greenpeace rep Casey Harrel, is that they barely even attempt to submit, or make available, the information Greenpeace require to make accurate judgements.

The Nintendogs, it appears, have eaten their homework.

“Nintendo consistently scores the poorest on our Guide to Greener Electronics,” begins Corey, “primarily because they don’t submit, nor have any publicly available information, on over half the criteria that we use to assess company performance on the Guide.

“And those that they do have answers for, are quite poor.”

According to the report, Nintendo “continues to score zero on all e-waste criteria,” “has not set a timeline” for the “phase out” of PVC use, and continually increases its CO2 emissions each year.

Nintendo’s report card clearly reads – must try harder.

And effort seems to be the key. When Apple, for example, scored terribly on the Greenpeace report some years back, as a company they took it to heart, implementing new strategies which now put the company roughly in the middle of the ‘green’ spectrum, just below Sony, Panasonic and Motorola.

Getting Nintendo to even address the subject is half the battle.

“Unlike the other 17 companies on the Guide,” says Casey, “Nintendo is incredibly tight-lipped – and I’ve been told this extends to issues well outside the environmental sphere. Our interaction has been limited to a few chance meetings with non-Japanese staff – usually newbies in the company – who we’ve run into at trade shows. They make promises to talk further, and then it’s either radio silence or a polite email back, saying that they can’t talk to us.”

It’s a familiar story. Dealings with Nintendo, in our experience, are infrequent and always on their terms.

We asked Casey what he thought was stopping Nintendo from making the effort.

“Perhaps their willingness to engage,” responds Casey. “I could speculate further, but without any informed opinion from engagement I’d just be hypothesizing. I think that they are not inherently challenged on any of the questions we are assessing them – with the possible exception of energy efficiency.”

Microsoft is another bad apple, but Sony has become increasingly green friendly as a company, keeping in pace with the rest of the technology world which, as an industry, has made great strides in the last decade.

“I think in general – Nintendo excluded – the general progression of the consumer electronics industry on ecological issues is one of moderate improvements over time,” claims Casey. “Looking back 5, 10 years ago, the products are now made with less toxic materials, run more energy efficiently, and have a greater ability to be recycled.”

Could Sony’s broader range of products, across different types of tech, have any kind of influence on their stronger scores?

“Sony has a wider product portfolio – and in general many more consumer electronic products – so innovation on energy efficiency design or knowledge accrued on chemical management/elimination could be transferred from one product division to another more easily at a company like Sony than Microsoft or Nintendo.

“But, conversely, a limited product range does allow focus…”

It seems more likely that Nintendo’s poor environmental record is a result of corporate culture. Nintendo tend to insulate themselves from current trends and, for better or worse, that’s been a common theme throughout their history. Stubbornly using cartridges with the N64, removing themselves from the tech arms race with the Wii – it’s served them well on occasions and less well on others, but that attitude seems to have transferred across to environmental issues.

Nintendo simply won’t listen or engage with Greenpeace, and won’t change their behaviour to suit them.

We asked Casey what changes, in an ideal world, he would like Nintendo to make.

“Well,” he began, “Nintendo has a lot of room for improvement. Ideally, I’d like to see them start with disclosure. The company is not disclosing much information on their environmental impact. This will be a good gauge on where they need to improve

“Progress should start with a strong commitment to chemicals management and a precautionary approach to the materials they use in their products – they should use chemicals that they know don’t cause harm.

“This eco-design will reap benefits in terms of the recyclability of their products, and likely up the percentage of goods that are collected for proper dismantling and recycling. This will allow more recycled content to be place in next-gen consumer electronics.

“And, finally, focus on energy use, both in the manufacturing of the products, but also during the use phase, where – specifically in game consoles – there is significant energy use. Bring efficiency down by a factor of eight – using Moore’s law, this should be feasible within five years.”

“In short,” he says, finally, “Nintendo, like all companies can ideally be in a place within five years where they make products free of toxic chemicals, that are highly recyclable, have a factor lighter carbon footprint, and use significantly less energy during their lifespan.”

But will Nintendo heed the call? That’s the real question.

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