Greenpeace Demands Apple Come Clean

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Greenpeace released the 12th edition of its Guide to Greener Electronics today (PDF), with Apple falling somewhere between tangerine and burnt orange. For those who take the rating seriously, Apple scored 4.7 out of 10, unchanged from last time, though the company slipped from 10th to 11th place in the ranking of 18 companies.

The guide is based on three “demands” (their word) by Greenpeace: eliminating toxic substances, e-waste recycling and energy usage. Those demands are then broken down into four sub-demands, which are ranked: bad, partially bad, partially good, and good. Overall, Apple scores mostly in the middle, but with several bad grades.

The single, wholly positive ranking Apple receives is for the timeline on phasing out nasty PVCs and BFRs from manufacturing. As Apple and the Environment notes, “Printed circuit boards, electrical components, mechanical parts, and internal cables are BFR-free and PVC-free.” However, Greenpeace even takes issue with that claim because Apple has “unreasonably high threshold limits for BFRs and PVC in products that are allegedly PVC-/BFR-free.”

Greenpeace criticizes Apple strongly on e-waste recycling, while at the same time noting the company has extended coverage of its recycling program to Asia, and that Apple has set a goal of a 50 percent recycling rate by 2010. The main problem, according to Greenpeace, is a matter of disclosure on the part of Apple. On the issue of energy, Apple again scores poorly. First, because the company does not report on GHG (greenhouse gasses) emissions, Apple fails. Second, because the company does not report on renewable energy usage, Apple fails.

If you don’t see a pattern here, what it comes down to is that Greenpeace grades companies on words as much as action. Apple is a secretive company by nature. Considering how confrontational Greenpeace has been with Apple in the past, it’s hardly a surprise that Apple makes no effort to meet the “demands” of Greenpeace.

The real question here is why Greenpeace focuses so much on Apple. Both Dell and HP sell far more computers than Apple. Both have dropped in ranking, according to the latest guide, and both now score lower than Apple. Does this mean we will see protestors at the headquarters of HP? Will there be advertising campaigns about a “yellow” Dell? If Greenpeace followed its own guide, that’s what should happen.

However, the difference between Apple and every company in the guide is brand. Apple is easily the most popular brand. By focusing on Apple negatively, Greenpeace can theoretically threaten Apple’s brand popularity. Further, any changes Apple makes because of pressure from Greenpeace could then be leveraged against companies that actually pollute more than Apple. Finally, attacking the most popular company raises awareness of Greenpeace itself, not that the environmental organization would ever be so self-serving.

Keep going green, Apple, but keep going without Greenpeace.

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