While getting better, Greenpeace feels Apple has a long way to go

Apple Inc. founder and CEO Steve Jobs is a self-proclaimed environmentalist and experiencer of nature.  He has a warm relationship with famed Nobel-prize-winning environmental activist and former Vice President Al Gore, and has always been labeled as overly environmentally oriented by his critics.  Still, Apple Inc.'s processes rely on conventional cost-effective, but sometimes mildly toxic, solutions found in much of the rest of the industry. 

This has led to harsh words between Jobs and environmental activists, such as Greenpeace.  At last Macworld Expo Greenpeace protesters disrupted the Apple-loving festivities with a vocal rally against the company's production logistics.  This led to Jobs sardonically remarking that the activists should, "get out of the computer business [and] go save some whales."

Apple subsequently ejected Greenpeace from the Macworld Expo grounds.

Greenpeace lost no love with Apple when it late last year slammed them with a report claiming their iPhone and iPod lines were "toxic".  Apple predictably fired back, firmly denying that its products were harmful.

This year's Macworld Expo showcased a possible cooling of tensions between Apple and Greenpeace.  For a change, there were no Greenpeace demonstrators to be seen, and Jobs for the first time focused on environmental specs in his keynote address. 

The keynote's primary focus is in Apple's laptop market "killer-app," the Macbook Air, one of the world's thinnest laptop designs.  When presenting the Macbook, Jobs noted that the thin aluminum casing is not only good looking, but also fully recyclable, with aluminum being one of the most easy to recycle materials.

He went on to proudly announce that the Air will sport the company's first mercury and arsenic free display and all Apple circuit boards (which due to the form factor are the majority of components) will be free of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and poly-vinyl chloride (PVC). 

The use of BFRs and PVC are still relatively abundant in the consumer electronics industry, but their use was among the factors that Greenpeace ripped Apple's iPhone on.   PVC is a plastic used for casings and moldings, while BFRs are used as a flame retardant to protect circuit boards from fires upon overheating.  Several major manufacturers had already heeded environmental concerns and began removing these substances from their manufacturing processes.

Rick Hind, the legislative director of Greenpeace's toxics campaign, which recently ripped on video game console manufacturers, said that Apple was making some good steps, but was still performing rather poorly -- sort of like a B- student.  He said, "Apple is getting greener, but not green enough.  The Macbook Air has less toxic PVC plastic and less toxic BFRs, but it could have zero and that would make Apple an eco-leader."

Greenpeace also criticized Apple for Job's unfulfilled promise in 2007 in an open letter (PDF), in which he stated that Apple would eliminate all BFRs and PVC plastics from its product lines by the end of 2008.

Is Greenpeace picking on Apple?  Hind noted that Apple is often unhappy with Greenpeace's criticism, saying, "Apple sometimes gets really defensive.  They say: Why are you picking on us -- especially when we have such a small market share compared to the rest of the industry?"

Hind explains that the simple reason for targeting Apple is that it is seen as an innovator and tech leader, more so than traditional manufacturers like HP and Dell.  If they single Apple out, he feels, it will both raise awareness on the issue and get other companies to follow in suit.

Jobs made a promise at the Macworld Expo to continue to deliver environmental reports on new and updated Apple products in his keynote speeches and to focus more on green issues.  For now, he has earned a passing grade from Greenpeace, the kind that leaves a slightly sour taste in one's mouth -- above average, but still rather unsatisfactory.

"Google fired a shot heard 'round the world, and now a second American company has answered the call to defend the rights of the Chinese people." -- Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.)

Most Popular Articles

Copyright 2018 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki