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There Goes Greenpeace Again.....


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April 03, 2007

There Goes Greenpeace Again.....

Arik Hesseldahl

There goes Greenpeace again, making noise with no substance to back it up. The Associated Press is reporting today what astute readers of BusinessWeek.com already know, is that Greenpeace International, the global organization devoted to environmental activism, has been putting heavy pressure on Apple for its environmental practices.

Last week’s shot was a series of letters to Al Gore, the former vice president, longtime environmental spokesman, and current Apple director, calling on Gore to support some shareholder proposals before the board of directors concerning recycling and the elimination of certain harmful chemicals. This week, the AP’s bureau in Amsterdam has noticed that Apple’s position on Greenpeace’s deeply flawed “Guide to Greener Electronics” rankings is now dead last.

What’s not changed one bit is the fundamentally incorrect premise behind some aspects of the rankings. The most important ones concern the content of harmful chemicals used in PCs, including PVCs in plastics, and brominated flame retardants used to coat printed circuit boards and thus prevent fires. These are nasty substances, this I won't deny. But in both cases Apple gets poor grades from Greenpeace while Dell gets better grades, despite the inconvenient fact that both are in exactly the same boat: stuck. Both would like to stop using these chemicals, and both have said so publicly. Dell says it will stop using them by 2009. Apple hasn’t been quite so definitive in regards to a precise date that it intends to stop, but it is otherwise equally committed to the issue. The result, among PC makers, Dell is way ahead, though now behind Lenovo, in Greenpeace’s rankings, while Apple drags dead last.

This is just an easy example of the flawed methodologies behind Greenpeaces’ “rankings” on this issue. Here’s another hint about why Dell did so well, from my colleague John Carey, who in a story in the March 12 issue of the magazine. After being hit with high-intensity protests, Dell decided to play ball with Greenpeace, creating a wide-ranging recycling program, (make no mistake, this is a good thing) committing to eliminate PVC and BFRs (again a good thing, provided it happens).

But then there was also this: On Jan. 10, in a speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show, Michael Dell, still not back in the CEO’s seat at this point, launched a program called “Plant A Tree For Me,” in which Dell would ask customers to donate $2 for every notebook they buy and $6 for every desktop they buy to go to the Conservation Fund and the Carbofund, two environmental organizations that seek to help the environment, one by planting trees, and one to reduce or offset carbon emissions.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these actions do Dell credit. But it just looks fishy, especially against the backdrop of all the negative press coverage Dell has been getting concerning its financial condition, and the SEC investigation, the exact nature of which is still undisclosed.

As Carey pointed out in his piece, the reason activists like a firm commitment like the one Dell has given is that when the date arrives, they can really lean on the company to meet its commitment. But what if no suitable replacements for either PVC or BFRs are found by 2009? Why not wait and commit to change “as soon as feasible?” That appears to be Apple’s position.

Meanwhile, as I also pointed out last week, the cleanest PCs, according the Evironmental Protection Agency’s E-Peat criteria come not from Dell, but from Apple. Go and look it up yourself.

I’ll be the first to applaud if and when Apple makes some new environmental commitments, or announces that it has independently created a truly eco-friendly PC. But I hope nothing it does comes as a result of Greenpeace’s misguided bullying based on misleading the computer-buying public.

01:58 PM

Miscellaneous

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Apple uses the same materials to make their PCs as the other PC manufactures, and Windoz folks are fond of pointing out that Apple only has 5% of the world market or less. Since Apple has roughly the same recycling policy as the other manufactures. how can they be the number one polluter? Can't Green peace do simple math? The answer is that Green Peace is lying (what's new) to further their own agenda, mainly monetary to support the leaches who now run Green Peace.

Posted by: Thomas Carley at April 3, 2007 05:36 PM

Sadly, Greenpeace has become Greenshakedownartists, or Greenfraud, or Greenextremists, or Greenwithenvy, or Greenhypemachine, or Greenshakedownmachine.

Posted by: KenC at April 3, 2007 08:08 PM

Greenpeace pollutes the world with fraudulent claims and spin to further their own causes, gain publicity at others' expenses. For what? More funding of course.

Greenpeace is one of the dirtiest organizations in the world.

Posted by: C Foh at April 4, 2007 12:28 AM

I completely disagree with you Ari.

Apple has definitely been a laggard in environmental policies, and it's not just Greenpeace who's saying it--it's a coalition of NGOs that are backing Greenpeace's statement. Are you saying that 70 organizations are "making noise with no substance to back it up?"

1. Apple does not engage in meetings with stakeholders the way other companies do. If Apple is so serious about the environment, it should be more transparent and allow others to take part in shaping its environmental policies.

2. If you buy an iPod, you will very well know that you cannot replace the battery when the iPod dies--instead you have to buy a new iPod. It fuels consumption and increases more toxic battery waste in the world. Now, that is done very deliberately by Apple so that they can sell more iPods to people. And it's very wrong.

3. Lastly, whatever opinion you have of Greenpeace or whatever motives you think GP has--if Apple changes according to GP's terms it'll be better for this planet.

So please think twice before you undermine an organization that fights so hard for the environment. Organizations like GP provide a counterbalancing voice to this society which is dominated by businesses. Is that so wrong?

Posted by: disgruntled reader at April 4, 2007 02:47 AM

Greenpeace has had a deep seated grudge against Apple since its CEO (Jobs) belittled them at an AAPL shareholders' meeting for getting their facts wrong.

Ever since, they've done everything they can to use Apple and the planet-wrecker Jobs (ironic, given that he's a vegan) as the whipping boy of their campaign.

Maybe he shouldn't have poked fun at them, but c'mon, everyone knows they're a bunch of maladjusted losers who couldn't get their facts right to save their life.

All sympathy I had for the organization when the French secret service blew up their boat in New Zealand has long since evaporated. They're a different organization now, and one out of touch with reality.

Posted by: Reg at April 4, 2007 04:27 AM

I agree that Apple is being unfairly targeted, but this problem needs to be dealt with. Apple could take a few simple steps to temper the criticism.

I did a little contract work for a company that works with Fortune 500 corporations to divert used computers from landfill by giving them to charitable schools, and sending them to schools in the developing world. Apple computers have a long and productive life; imagine the difference Apple could make in areas of the world where need is great.

To provide perspective. Twelve times every day in Canada, the Rogers Centre – home of the Toronto Blue Jays – could be stuffed with computers that are thrown into landfills. And Canada is a world leader in national recycling.

Imagine how much worse it must be in populous countries like the US or China? Would Yankee Stadium be filled every 10 minutes, as the ratio between our populations would suggest. Or every six minutes? Either way, that's an incredible waste of resources and opportunity.

So Arik is right, Apple is being unfairly targeted. But they could assume a leadership role to deflect the criticism, and that wouldn't be a bad thing.

Posted by: Richard Levangie at April 4, 2007 07:03 AM

"making noise with no substance to back it up"

And what's this, fluff?

http://www.greenpeace.org/international/campaigns/toxics/electronics

"Dell decided to play ball with Greenpeace, creating a wide-ranging recycling program, (make no mistake, this is a good thing) committing to eliminate PVC and BFRs (again a good thing...)"

"Don’t get me wrong. All of these actions do Dell credit. But it just looks fishy..."

So you basically agree that the outcome of Greenpeace's campaign so far are good things. But you don't like them. And Dell is fishy. And remind me again, you're a journalist?

"Both would like to stop using these chemicals, and both have said so publicly. Dell says it will stop using them by 2009. Apple hasn’t been quite so definitive in regards to a precise date that it intends to stop, but it is otherwise equally committed to the issue."

Uh, ok. So Apple being "equally committed" to the issue (and you know this how?) but making no hard committments means everything is ok?

Thanks for the truly hard-hitting investigative journalism here, Arik. I think Business Week Readers deserve better.

Posted by: Trevor at April 4, 2007 07:44 AM

Consistently apple has designed and made all-in-one desktops.

Less plastic, one power supply not two with the extra for the separate monitor, less packaging, less boxes less transport, less cables....

Even by 1998 the first iMacs were ahead in energy conservation using on average a third of the power over a working day using smarter energy management than standard windows settings. Later iMacs did not even need fans for cooling with more energy efficient chip technology.

Some Gartner research I saw a few years ago suggested that Apple computers were kept much longer than the average for most windows PCs and that the installed base of Macs was higher than their market share showed.

Does long reliable life count for anything in Greenpeace' fuzzy criteria?

I suspect Greenpeace' savvy publicity machine is trolling for hits against Apple because of their current high profile in the media.

Posted by: forbrekky at April 4, 2007 07:58 AM

Well, Apple have "fessed up" and pointed out that they probably have the world's best environmental practices of any major computer manufacturer, and have done so for many years.

Greenpeace have claimed "victory" (rather reminiscent of GWB on the USS Enterprise, I thought) though the environmental practices of Apple haven't actually changed one iota, as far as I can see. they have simply said what they do, and wht they think they can do in the future.

Meanwhile, no doubt, all of those CRT screens that people have bought with their other brands of computers, in some cases purchased because Greenpeace had given Apple a bad name, with perhaps a kilo of lead in each, all of those beige boxes with twice the power consumption of an iMac, and all of those piles of old Dell PVC packaging (abandoned by Apple more than a decade ago) have continued to accumulate.

One thing for sure. Greenpeace and GWB both know how to claim a "victory". I sadly have increasing doubts that Greenpeace have any better understanding than Bush of what the word actually means!

Posted by: Rod Hagen at May 4, 2007 06:39 AM

I think I've never read an article as badly researched as this one outside of the German "BILD" Newspaper. It seems like you didn't read the Greenpeace study at all, but just randomly picked out the brand names and their positions. By offering a world-wide recycling programm, Dell exactly met one of Greenpeace's criterias, while Apple tries to confuse people with figures like "the countries where 82% of all products are sold." Even in his "A greener Apple" manifesto Jobs doesn't name the countries where Apple offers recycling, or if they are forced to do so by law.

"I’ll be the first to applaud if and when Apple makes some new environmental commitments, or announces that it has independently created a truly eco-friendly PC. But I hope nothing it does comes as a result of Greenpeace’s misguided bullying based on misleading the computer-buying public."

Well, Apple changed their policy (I seriously do not believe that this was all just a "surprise" and has been planned long ago), and Greenpeace seems to be one of the reasons... To be honest: Why would a company that aims to make profit change their business practises if not because of laws or pressure out on them by consumers? All Greenpeace does is showing the public what dirt the companies have in their closets. I think the ranking is fair and founded on the right criterias.

Concerning previous comments:

@Reg: Greenpeace does not base their judgement on grudges. I've seen many companies rise and fall in the eyes of Greenpeace, concerning what they do and what they don't. That's what independence is all about. Japan, for example, isn't considered as an enemy, just because Japan hunts whales and considers Greenpeace activists as "Terrorists", a NGO isn't in the position to have grudges on someone, while companies, countries and especially newspapers often seem to have grudges on Greenpeace.

@Rod Hagen:

"We're cheering" doesn't mean "we won", as you can read on the greenpeace homepage. It's just one big step in the right direction...

Posted by: flatten the skyline at May 8, 2007 05:41 AM


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