Apple's green enough without another layer of bureaucracy

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

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Apple also clearly outlines at least some of the strategies it has adopted to reduce its environmental footprint, some of which the company arguably might want to keep secret, as they may give competitors bright ideas. Among them, on the supply-chain side, the company reports that it reduced its packaging of the 13-inch MacBook by more than 40 percent between 2006 and 2009. As such, the company can ship 50 percent more boxes per airline shipping container. That saves one 747 flight for every 32,000 units the company ships, resulting in fewer carbon emissions and, I expect, a significant reduction in shipping costs.

Speaking of the supply chain, Apple also has made public its Supplier Code of Conduct (which other high-tech companies also have in place), requiring suppliers to adhere to rules pertaining to safe working conditions, treating employees fairly, and establishing and maintaining environmentally responsible manufacturing processes. Beyond that, Apple released last year a comprehensive report on audits it conducted of its suppliers [PDF], including disclosure of violations (the most prevalent being some suppliers hiring workers from one country to work in factories in another country) and remedies.

[ Green demands have trickled down the supply chain, with large companies like Verizon demanding greener components from suppliers. ]

Beyond how it addresses sustainability in along the supply chain, Apple divulges in some detail how it has increased the energy efficiency of its products over the years. The company reports, for example, that a 2006 15-inch MacBook Pro is responsible for 21.44g of CO2e emissions per hour (when the system is idle with the display on); a 2008 model is responsible for 12.57g. The secret sauce for these power improvements: more efficient components and smarter power-management software.

Energy efficiency and GHG reductions are but part of an overall green-product strategy. Green-tech products are also modular, long-lasting, and easily recyclable. Moreover, they have a smaller overall footprint (meaning they're made of fewer materials), and they contain a minimal amount of toxic materials. Here, too, Apple reports progress on various fronts. Among them, the mass of a 2009 20-inch iMac is 8.3kg. The mass of a 17-inch 2002 iMac is 10.5kg; despite a larger display, the newer machine uses less material and takes up less space.

In a similar vein, Apple is the only company -- I stress "only" -- recognized by former-thorn-in-its-side Greenpeace for virtually eliminating all toxic vinyl plastics (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from its entire product line. This includes not only desktop computers, laptops, and monitors but also mobile devices, a product space that's screaming for greening.

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