Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Is Apple improving its environmental record, or is it just spin?

Did anyone else notice that Steve Jobs actually made it a point, albeit briefly, to talk about Apple's environmental goals at his MacWorld keynote last month?

When I was checking out the specs for the new MacBook Air on the Apple website I was astonished to see on the Tech Specs page, a big, bold box labeled Environmental Status Report.

A short while later I went looking for Apple's page on their environmental standards, which I had seen last year but wasn't sure where to find it since they've redesigned their site in the meantime. I went to the home page of and figured I'd have to click on "Site Map" and then look for the link there, but I was surprised to see an "Environment" link at the bottom of the home page, right next to "Job Opportunities."

It all made me wonder whether Apple is beginning to do a better job with their product designs, or whether it's just their marketing department that's doing a better job with spin.

As I mentioned here a couple years ago, Greenpeace has been critical of Apple, citing the company as the 4th worst tech firm in 2006 and launching the Green My Apple campaign in 2007.

Likewise, in 2005 the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC) launched it's Bad Apple campaign to criticize, among other things, the non-ubgradeability of the iPod and Apple's reluctance to institute a take-back solution for electronics recycling. (SVTC's campaign was itself criticized in a 2006 article on Roughly Drafted.)

I've been wondering if these two watchdog groups had been following Apple's progress and what their take was. Alas, the SVTC's website search sucks and Google doesn't seem to have even spidered their content (!), so I didn't find much there, although it seems that SVTC is still pushing Apple for shareholder resolutions that would improve its computer take-back efforts.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace seems to have discontinued its Green My Apple campaign after Steve Jobs issued a very public pronouncement last spring on a page titled "A Greener Apple," wherein he described the company's plans to, among other things, phase out some of the worst chemicals found in CRT monitors. I thought this was a little bit disingenuous on Apple's part, however, since it had been clear for a while that Apple was phasing out CRTs for business and product design reasons, not environmental ones. Jobs' letter also signaled improvements in e-waste reduction via upgrades to its electronics take-back program.

In a statement about Jobs' letter, Greenpeace said, "It's not everything we asked for. Apple has declared a phase-out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008. That beats Dell and other computer manufactures' pledge to phase them out by 2009... But while customers in the US will be able to return their Apple products for recycling knowing that their gear won't end up in the e-waste mountains of Asia and India, Apple isn't making that promise to anyone but customers in the USA. Elsewhere in the world, an Apple product today can still be tomorrow's e-waste. Other manufacturers offer worldwide takeback and recycling. Apple should too!" [Full article]

Greenpeace also issued a detailed analysis of Jobs' pronouncement last May. Almost a year later, though, they don't seem to have put out a follow-up yet. I hope they will.

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