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How Green Is Thy Mac? Greener Than Greenpeace Wants You To Think


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May 02, 2007

How Green Is Thy Mac? Greener Than Greenpeace Wants You To Think

Arik Hesseldahl

Steve Jobs stepped into the light with another long essay today (I still think he should start a blog) on Apple’s environmental policies. Remember if you will that little kerfuffle a few weeks back about how the environmental organization was using its considerable PR chops to smack Apple around a little for the nasty chemicals that go inside its computers, all the while making nice with Dell. I didn’t think much of its claims and for the most part, still don’t.

Jobs finally shot back today in a signed six-page statement entitled “A Greener Apple,” saying that after investigating the matter, it’s his opinion that Apple is either ahead of many of the companies that Greenpeace has graded higher, or soon will be ahead of them. More after the jump.

One reason for the bad grades from Greenpeace? Communication, he says. “It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener,” he writes.

So here’s the rundown. Greenpeace had been pressuring Al Gore, the former vice president and current Apple director to use his influence to get Apple to study the feasibility and make a commitment to two things: removing polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardant (BFR) from its products. PVC makes plastics flexible and is widely used in the outer coatings of wiring. BFR is used to coat motherboards to help keep them from bursting into flames, given the heat that the CPU chip can produce.

Additionally, it has been publicly berating Apple and comparing it unfavorable to Dell, Hewlett-Packard and others, while many of those companies are essentially in the same boat. All still use PVC and BFR in their computers, but Dell and HP get better grades than Apple for their commitments to do something about it at varying dates in the future. Whoopie.

So on the subject of PVC Jobs says this: “Apple began phasing out PVC 12 years and began restricting BFRs in 2001. For the past several years we have been developing alternative materials that can replace these chemicals without compromising the safety or quality of our products.” On BFR: 3 million iPods have shipped with a BFR-free motherboard already.

But here’s the big news that should get Apple a better grade soon: Jobs committed to shipping PVC- and BFR-free products by the end of next year. This trumps Dell’s commitment to rid itself of PVC and BFR by 2009, and HP’s plans to publish a plan about how it will do this by the end of 2007.

On recycling of old computers and other components, he said that recycling programs are in place in the countries where Apple sells 82% of all Macs and iPods are sold, and he’s promised to raise that percentage to 93% by the end of this year.

But he also raises questions about the efficacy of these programs: “Currently, there is no industry standard way to measure of the effectiveness of a company’s recycling programs. Dell has proposed a simple measure - assume a seven year product lifetime, and measure the percentage of the total weight you recycle each year compared to the total weight of what you sold seven years earlier. This makes sense to us, and has the added advantages of clarity and simplicity.” Here he reckons Apple compares nicely to Dell and HP, especially when you consider that both sell far more products by unit volume and weight than Apple does.

He also takes price in pointing out that the materials inside Apple’s products are in high demand by recyclers: aircraft grade aluminum for instance.

Finally he promises to provide regular updates “at least annually,” and using the environment buzz phrase of the moment, he says that Apple is looking for ways to reduce the “carbon footprint” (did I just hear Al Gore in there?) of Apple products, and may have some interesting data and issues to share later. Oooh. Did I just hear a challenge?

06:36 PM

Steve Jobs

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“It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener,”

yes I know this is the good Policy.. By the way thanks Arik Hesseldahl.. good story

Posted by: eIopd at May 3, 2007 01:53 AM

This article criticizes Greenpeace as misdirected, when it appears to me to be at least the partial impetus for Jobs' announcement. This is effective activism. To take Jobs' "we don't announce plans" at face value as an unqualified alibi discounts the considerable concern Apple customers have for the environment. Kudos to Greenpeace, kudos to Apple customers, kudos to Jobs.

Posted by: wkcraven at May 3, 2007 02:02 AM

Apple is a fruit like no other.... Healthy and with the goodness of mother nature , bringing prosperity to millions who are addicted to it. Same, may not be true for Apple gadgets like IPOD created by the earthling “Steve Jobs” , the new business messiah . However, when “thought leaders’ like him start weighing their options with regard to the environment, then it is time to celebrate.

At "Green Corporate Network" ( Greencorporate.com) we are trying to create a platform for right communication about an organization's Green Goals. Corporates should no longer have an excuse that they did not know how to communicate their "Green Mission".

GreenCorporate.com

Posted by: Chandra Kishore at May 3, 2007 10:48 AM

Steve Jobs and Apple are so pretentious anyway... does anyone outside of the little coterie of Mac lovers really care?

Posted by: GlennC at May 3, 2007 01:27 PM

People outside the Apple world do care ... are you saying you are not pretentious? Name calling is not good for the earth!

Posted by: CastFirstStone at May 3, 2007 03:47 PM

By GlennC:

"Steve Jobs and Apple are so pretentious anyway...does anyone outside of the little coterie of Mac lovers really care?"

As a matter of fact, due to the sheer impact on the environment and the amount of market that they currently hold, and are gaining on, yes others outside of Apple care!

Apple owns 85%+ of the market in mp3 players (you may have heard of the iPod)? Secondly, Apple computers are currently out selling everyone in the market at this time (please check Apple's last quarter results posted to investors). If the current leader in the personal computing market can clean up it's act and prove it, why can't Dell and HP? Thirdly, it is setting what will surely become the future environmental standards both here and in the EU. So who should care? Everyone who has a job related to computers and computer hardware.

Posted by: BrentS at May 3, 2007 08:57 PM

Greenpeace is to Apple's greening as a rooster is to the sunrise - LinuxGuy and Mac Prodigal Son

Posted by: SanjayK at May 4, 2007 10:18 AM

I don't put much stock in any CEO who trumpets his environmental agenda, when his entire empire is based on planned obsolescence, particularly and egregiously as concerns the Ipod, a $400 luxury item whose shelf life is engineered to be a pitiful 12-14 months, with new models introduced every 6 months or so, and whose fragility requires the separate purchase of a $30 "skin." If IPODs were watches, Apple would be out of business.

Posted by: Toni Ciany at May 4, 2007 12:03 PM

I hate to start comment fights, but...

Toni, I just thought I should let you know that there's a 1st gen, 5 GB ipod in my house (my little brother uses it) that's running and showing no signs of stopping.

My other brother uses a 3rd gen 15GB iPod, it too still working fine.

My dad uses a 4th generation, mono-chrome 20GB iPod, working fantastically also.

All of these are far over 12-14 months old.

Then, I have a 5th gen 60GB iPod that's almost at that point, still running fine. And, I have yet to buy a $30 "skin" for it.

Posted by: Reid Bode at May 6, 2007 09:44 AM

the headline and the first paragraph of this article sound like greenpeace is at war with apple while being in a conspiracy with Dell. That's definitely misleading. I don't know if you can take every word from Steve Jobs as true, after all, he is human, and not specifically the pope either. (though some Apple users strangely remind me of a cult) So when now, in May, he chooses to tell the world that he had plans for apple to go greener all the time, it is either plain stupid of him that he waited for so long while one of the most powerful enviromental organizations unleashed a campaign against his corporation that "did nothing wrong" in the first place, or maybe their plans to go green are just a lot newer than we may think...

Still, they can improve their recycling policy even more, and the fact that Apple uses "demanded" materials has nothing to do with it: electronics usually don't go to a dump, but get "recycled" by poor underage asians, who separate the parts over an open fire while not wearing masks as a worst case scenario.

So it is true that Apple's grades improved after this keynote, but it's not like it's Greenpeace's fault they never said so earlier, right?

I, being a Greenpeace activist in Germany for four years now, am glad that I don't have to be ashamed to have an iPod anymore. I didn't think much about it when I bought it, and I still think it was stupid of me spending that much money on a piece of useless electronic luxury, but at least I don't have to hide the white earpeces any more...

PS: My iPod has a history of defects and warranty exchange as well.

Posted by: flatten the skyline at May 7, 2007 01:59 PM


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