Apple's green enough without another layer of bureaucracy

Apple rightly resists pressure to create a sustainability board and spew out even more reports

Of all the high-tech companies out there, none seems to suffer more public criticism for its environmental practices than Apple. Greenpeace has a history of setting its sights on the company with, among other things, its high-profile "Green My Apple" campaign. More recently, corporate responsibility foundation As You Sow, on behalf of some Apple shareholders, has pressured the Apple board to prepare a sustainability report by July, outlining how the company is "[reducing] greenhouse gas emissions and [addressing] other environmental and social impacts such as toxics, recycling, and employee and product safety." A second group, meanwhile, wants Apple to set up a board-level sustainability committee.

Apple is resisting both of these demands -- and rightly so, in my view. The directive to crank out an annual sustainability report implies Apple is currently very secretive about its sustainability practices -- perhaps because the company's green practices are lackluster, if any exist at all. That would explain the need for an added layer of bureaucracy in the form of a special "green unit" to finally get the company moving on some environmental initiatives.

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Reality-check time: First off, Apple is a leader in sustainability among hardware vendors. The company has successfully incorporated green practices at all levels of its supply chain, in the way its products are designed and built, and in its business practices. Further, the company is very open -- surprisingly so, given its reputed secretive nature -- in reporting on its eco-oriented accomplishments and initiatives. A wealth of information is readily available on the company's Web site, presented in a remarkably clear manner.

For example, do you want to know the size of Apple's environmental footprint? That data is prominently placed on the environmental section of the company's Web site. It's currently around 10.2 million greenhouse gas emissions. Want to know how that breaks down? There's 38 percent from manufacturing, 5 percent from transportation, 1 percent from recycling, 3 percent from Apple's facilities, and the remaining 53 percent from product use -- that is, the energy Apple's products consume when used by customers. (By the way, if other high-tech companies incorporate that last figure into their own environmental footprint, I haven't heard about it.)

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