Computer maker Hewlett-Packard was targeted on Tuesday by environmental campaigners including Star Trek actor William Shatner.
Greenpeace activists scaled the company’s headquarters in Palo Alto and painted the words “Hazardous Products” in enormous letters on the roof to draw attention to its backpedalling on a pledge it made to remove toxic chemicals from its products by the end of the year.
The message, a play on the company’s HP logo, was applied using non-toxic children’s finger paint and covered 11,500 sq ft.
Hewlett-Packard employees received automated calls with a recorded message from Mr Shatner, who played Captain Kirk in the science fiction series.
“You promised me a toxic-free computer by 2009,” he said in the recording. “Now my friends at Greenpeace tell me that I’ll have to wait until 2011. What’s up with that?”
Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest maker of personal computers, has sought to portray itself as an environmentally friendly company. “For decades HP has been a leader in environmental responsibility,” it said in a statement.
In 2007 Hewlett-Packard said it would stop including brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride plastics (PVC) by the end of 2009. But earlier this year it postponed that transition for two years, saying the phase-out would be complete by 2011. A Hewlett-Packard spokesperson said that the delay was due to a “lack of acceptable alternatives”, and that rushing the phase-out would have caused disruptions to the computermaker’s supply chain.
Greenpeace says that Hewlett-Packard’s decisions have an outsized effect on the industry, and that until it phases out BFRs and PVC plastics, smaller PC makers will not feel compelled to do so. “Essentially they are sending a message to their supply chain and their competitors that they aren’t taking this issue seriously,” said Casey Harrell, international toxics campaign co-ordinator for Greenpeace.
Dell and Lenovo, two of the other largest PC makers, have also pledged to remove the chemicals from their products. Apple is regarded as the most environmentally friendly of the PC makers, having phased out BFRs and PVC plastics in most of its products.
Though BFRs and PVC plastics do not pose a big threat to consumers, they release toxic chemicals when burned, posing a threat to the environment and to communities in the developing world, where electronics are often shipped for disposal.
At dawn on Tuesday, 13 Greenpeace activists climbed ladders to the top of Hewlett-Packard’s headquarters.
“We had monitored their security and timed it so we knew when they weren’t there,” said Mr Harrell.
Police were soon on the scene but Hewlett-Packard chose not to press charges, an apparent effort to avoid prolonged media attention to the case. Mr Harrell also said that because the activists used finger paint, no damage was done to the building.