Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

     Environmentalists want more than just high-tech recycling

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2007 First published in Columbia Journal January 2007

    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, 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 chemicals.”

    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:

    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.


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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at