Apple faces unfair criticism for its green ways

Judging by the beating it's taken lately, both from Greenpeace and some of its investors, you'd think Apple was more toxic than the one that knocked out Snow White. Meanwhile, the company counters that its wares are quite Granny Smith green, thank you -- and from my perspective, the company does have a pretty green track record. That's not to say that Apple -- or any other electronics company -- is doing all tha

That's not to say that Apple -- or any other electronics company -- is doing all that it can to be fully eco-friendly. But Apple seems to be unfairly getting a worse rap than anyone else.

Some background first: Last year, Greenpeace ranked Apple as being the fourth least eco-friendly electronics company. It even went so far as to single out Apple, launching a marketing campaign called "Green My Apple", aimed at the company's alleged environmental shortcomings.

Apparently, the campaign didn't work to Greenpeace's expectations: Earlier this month, the nonprofit declared Apple to be at the very bottom of the barrel, dinging the company for failing to make any progress in greening up its act.

And now, Apple is feeling some heat from its investors to detoxify its goods. At its next annual meeting, slated for May 10, Apple's shareholders will vote on a proposal to eliminate certain hazardous chemicals from its products.

The resolution, submitted by investment firm Trillium Asset Management, would require Apple to explore removing "persistent and bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, and all types of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics" from its products.

Notably, those are precisely the types of substances that Greenpeace considers when assigning eco-rankings to electronics companies.

Apple, meanwhile, continues to defend its environmental record. "Apple has a strong environmental track record and has led the industry in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium, as well as many BFRs," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

The company also boasts in the environment section of its Web site that every one of it desktops and notebooks "score best in class in EPEAT, an environmental assessment tool launched under an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency." EPEAT considers not environmentally sensitive materials found in electronic products; it looks at the larger green picture, including power consumption, company's take-back programs, product lifecycle, and product packaging.

Notably, the Greenpeace approach and the EPEAT approach are quite different, as outlined in this IT Week article.

"Scot Case, marketing director at EPEAT, insisted there was no contradiction between the two ranking systems' findings and that neither could be used to prove the inaccuracy of the other. 'My initial reaction was that comparing the two systems was like comparing apples and oranges, but on closer inspection it is more like comparing apples and cows,' he said. 'EPEAT focuses on ranking the products; Greenpeace is looking at the whole company.'"

Personally, I think the EPEAT standards are more meaningful than Greenpeace's. Moreover, I find it suspect that the organization launched a flashy (and Webby-winning) campaign against Apple last year, even though the company wasn't then the lowest-ranked organization on the Greenpeace survey. I'd wager that the decision to single out Apple was really just a publicity ploy to draw attention to its cause by riding the coattails of the arguably hippest electronics company out there. Though considering the resolution Apple has before it on May 10 to explore removal of various substances from its goods, perhaps Greenpeace's campaign was effective.

Of course, I fully support Apple -- or any other company -- researching the feasibility of making its products more environmentally friendly. It's good for the planet and for our health, and it's a smart business move as well as a proactive business move to stay ahead of the green curve, given the increasingly strict environmental directives and regulation we've seen and will undoubtedly continue to see.

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