Clare Hobby, Director Purchaser Engagement Global, TCO Development
Clare Hobby oversees purchaser engagement programs worldwide for TCO Development, the organization behind TCO Certified, the global independent sustainability certification for IT products. TCO Certified is used by procuring organizations and the IT industry worldwide as a tool for driving environmental and supply chain responsibility into the IT ecosystem.
A dynamic communicator and sustainability advocate, Clare brings her global experience to a number of sustainability initiatives in the IT space. She is a board member of the Sustainable Purchasing Leadership Council and the International Green Purchasing Network and is active in the multi-stakeholder Clean Electronics Production Network and UN Environment’s One Planet Network. She holds Masters’s degrees from Northwestern University USA and the University of Melbourne and Executive Education in Sustainability Leadership at Harvard.
Can you highlight the key findings from the latest report Impacts & Insights: Navigating the Sustainable IT Revolution released by TCO Development?
This year’s report is really about shining the light on greenwash. We want to give IT purchasers the tools for avoiding it and increasing their impact in the supply chain, where the majority of the social and environmental risks are located.
The IT supply chain is vast, complex, and inaccessible for the majority of end-users, which makes issues like working conditions and chemical use almost impossible to assess. As a result, too many IT purchasers are expected to rely on unverified sustainability claims and declarations issued by the electronics manufacturers. Doing so raises the risk to reputation and negative findings connected to the electronics you buy. We’ve seen the many shortcuts and loopholes in IT manufacturing during our almost 30 years of certifying hardware, so we want purchasers to better understand the critical importance of independent verification of sustainability claims so that they can avoid this greenwash risk. This work is core to our certification, TCO Certified.
What are some ways to avoid green- and blue-washing through independent verification organizations?
Ecolabels and certifications are popular among purchasers wanting to make more sustainable product choices. The problem is there are literally hundreds to choose from, making it difficult to know which labels actually have an impact, or expose you to a higher risk for greenwash. It all comes down to three main factors working together: criteria, verification, and accountability.
Our advice is to ask these questions of an ecolabel or certification you’re considering:
- Criteria – Does the label include criteria for both environmental and supply chain responsibility in combination?
- Independent verification – Is independent verification of all criteria mandatory, for products and manufacturing?
- Accountability – Is there a system in place to hold manufacturers and brands accountable for compliance with all criteria?
How to communicate product sustainability to customers in a trustworthy way, cutting through the noise?
Again, this is where independent verification is critical. Actually being on the ground, assessing factories and testing products is vital for delivering documented proof to product buyers, but it also helps manufacturers avoid greenwash when communicating with their customers.
What are some strategies to replace bad practices with safer alternatives, such as ensuring fair labor conditions, safer chemicals, and low emissions?
We have to move from simply ” banning the bad” to “finding the better”. This is a paradigm shift we’ve developed in TCO Certified, especially around chemicals of concern and labor conditions. Again, independent verification is essential for being able to do this work.
For chemicals used in products and manufacturing processes, only around 1% of the thousands of chemicals in use today have been independently assessed for environmental or human health hazards. This is alarming. And while legislation has largely banned the worst, we have to make sure that the substances replacing them are actually safer. So we’ve developed the TCO Certified Acceptance Substance List, which lists independently assessed flame retardants and plasticizers that are benchmarked as safer, and are the only substances approved for use in certified products. By making our List publicly available, we’ve seen a shift to verified, safer substitutions becoming the mainstream choice industry-wide.
We’ve now expanded the Accepted List approach to final assembly factories. Based on the compliance track record of compliance with our criteria, we’re able to assign a risk category to each final assembly factory making certified products. This risk category determines the frequency of auditing and additional follow-up monitoring that the factory will be subject to. In short, the better a factory shows compliance over time, the lower the monitoring burden. It’s an effective way of making sustainability performance good business practice.
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What is your key advice to small businesses to help them define their sustainability goals?
Don’t be afraid to start small – but do get started. There are really good things you can do, that are often low-hanging fruit.
This is especially true for technology, where the majority of the sustainability impact already happens in the supply chain – before it lands on the desktop! When we buy less often, we are not perpetuating that same impact.
And of course, when it comes to buying new products, put good ecolabels and certifications to work for you!