Environmentalists want more than just
by Alan Zisman (c)
2007 First published in Columbia
Apple and Dell- two major computer companies that seem to represent
different approaches to business and technology.
Apple, based in California's Silicon Valley, focuses on innovation and
style with products that often command a price premium. Its advertising
has included the slogan 'Think Different' and used images of John
Lennon, Mahatma Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. Climate change crusader
Al Gore is on Apple's Board.
Dell, the world's largest manufacturer of personal computers, is based
in Texas, and has based its success on cutting costs and lowering
prices. Its best known advertising slogan is “Dude, you're
getting a Dell”.
So which one gets thumbs up from environmental activist Greenpeace? At www.greenpeace.org/apple
you can read: “We love Apple. Apple knows more about "clean"
design than anybody, right? So why do Macs, iPods, iBooks and the rest
of their product range contain hazardous substances that other
companies have abandoned? A cutting edge company shouldn't be cutting
lives short by exposing children in China and India to dangerous
In contrast, Greenpeace hailed Dell's promises to remove 'hazardous
chemicals' including brominated flame retardants and PVS from its
products, joining tech-manufacturers HP, Nokia, Samsung, Sony, and
Ericsson. Greenpeace noted that Acer, Apple, IBM, Lenovo, and
Toshiba had 'failed to comment' on their plans to eliminate these
chemicals from their manufacturing processes.
Many tech-product companies, including Apple, are supporting limited
electronics-recycling programs. Greenpeace notes, however, that if
their products contain chemicals such as toxic flame retardants and
polyvinyl chloride, when recycled, these chemicals are released back
into the environment. For recycling, most computers are shipped to
developing countries where these chemicals add to the hazards for local
workers and the environment.
In its “ Guide to Greener Electronics”, published in
August, Greenpeace ranked Apple below computer-manufacturers HP, Dell,
and Sony, with 'low scores on almost all criteria' (China's Lenovo,
which recently bought IBM's personal computer product line, was rated
lowest of the major manufacturers; Nokia and Dell were top-rated).
An Apple representative responded “Apple... has led the industry
in restricting and banning toxic substances such as mercury, cadmium,
and hexavalent chromium”, and noted that it was the first major
computer manufacturer to phase out bulky (and lheavy metal-laden) CRT
displays from its product line; the LCD replacements use much less
electricity. In April 2005, Apple CEO Steve Jobs called
environmentalists' singling out Apple “bullshit”. (The
company maintains a website on Apple and the environment at: www.apple.com/environment
Others have also criticised Greenpeace's report; web journalist Daniel
Eran suggests that the organization “was reporting more on each
vendor's web marketing savvy than their actual environmental
record.” He notes that higher-ranked HP and Dell, by selling
large numbers of low-end systems with old-style (and lead-filled) CRT
monitors, add more toxics to the environment than Greenpeace's ratings
would suggest and has noted that more recent Greenpeace tests found
Apple's MacBook laptop contained less toxic chemicals than models from
company's with higher ratings in the Greenpeace report.
Greenpeace notes that Apple has reduced product packaging and improved
products' energy efficiency, but the environmental activist
organization claims to be focusing on 'stemming the tide of toxic
e-waste'. Their campaign has included webpages and video clips that
mimic Apple's distinctive style, including parodies of Apple's Mac vs
PC TV ads, along with examples of home-made t-shirts, videos, and
alternative Apple ads.
In BC, the provincial government is mandating an electronic recycling
program as of August 2007. A stewardship program will be operated by
Encorp Pacific, a private not-for-profit corporation that currently
manages recycling of non-alcoholic beverage containers. An
environmental levy will be added to recyclable elctronics, along with a
collection program for TVs, computers, and printers. Fees are expected
to range from $5-$6 for a laptop to about $40 for a large-screen TV,
modeled after a program already in place in Alberta.
But as Greenpeace has aptly noted, recycling isn't enough if it only
exports BC's hazardous waste to become a developing country's problem.