Now frankly, one thing we admire about Apple is its determinedly apolitical stance. Over the years they’ve rather resolutely shied away from committing themselves publicly to passing political causes or crusades, they’ve never gone all Ben & Jerry on us, hectoring us like your ratchet-jaw aunt, and for that we owe them thanks. Apple almost never spoke out publicly on public political hot button issues — wisely, in our view — and avoided frothy controversies.
And yes, it’s unavoidable that green technology sometimes overlaps into the political, with false lines of demarcation and hasty assumptions made about those who actually believe anthropogenic global warming alarmism or those who want to just drill, baby, drill.
So we were wondering, how did Apple walk that line? What green initiatives did Apple embrace under Jobs’ leadership?
Nino Marchetti’s written a decent overview at Earth Techling, noting that over the years Greenpeace has criticized Apple for some of its practices. Not that that’s anything to be ashamed of, anymore Greenpeace is just as much a part of the establishment it pretends to be so outraged about, occasionally staging some political theater somewhere to keep the donations rolling in, but what is there of substance in Apple’s environmental record?
The Business Week Interview
In 2009 Jobs gave an interview to Peter Burrows of Business Week, saying that contrary to Apple’s less than stellar image among the MacBook-toting and iPod-listening greenies criticizing them for their lackluster green initiatives and efforts, the company was ahead of the curve the issue.
Apple, Burrows wrote, “wants to set the pace in addressing what [Jobs] says is a bigger challenge: reducing the amount of power required to run the company’s products,” in which area Jobs said “Unfortunately, we’re way ahead of our competitors.”
In the interview, Jobs said Apple had just finished a multiyear data-mining project, Burrows wrote, to “fully understand its environmental impact on the planet and has published data that may stir up controversy.” Jobs basically said while most studies of carbon footprints looked heavily at emissions, that only tells a part of the overall story. And he noted that Greenpeace’s campaign criticizing Apple in 2007 was yet another example of the group unfairly using their victim’s fame to promote Greenpeace.
As Jobs saw it at that point, Apple wasn’t any worse than anybody else in its league, but was getting hammered because they refused to play the PR game.
The Turning Point
That, Jobs told Burrows, was when Apple board member Al Gore told him “just do your work. Don’t get in a mud-slinging war with those guys.” So Jobs began issuing an “environmental scorecard” on new products, and redoubling efforts to eliminate toxic materials, according to Burrows: “While many tech companies have promised to stop using particular commercial compounds that include bromine and chlorine, Apple two years ago began requiring suppliers to prove that their products included none of these chemicals at all.”
That required a major investment, including hiring chemists and others to find alternatives to PVC. But Apple did so, and built PVC-free computers. At the time HP and Dell were promising to also build PVC-free computers, but hadn’t done so. Yet they continued to score high in “Green Company” ratings, rankling Jobs.
Apple also launched a high-profile “green offensive” in 2009, according to a Bloomberg article at the time, arguing that “broader, more comprehensive figures for carbon emissions should be used — for everything from materials mined for its products to the electricity used to power them, and it’s offering up its own data to make the case.”
Executives of the computer maker took the opportunity to point out that, again, the question is how you frame the question. As Apple noted, “consumers’ use of Apple products accounts for 53 percent of the company’s total 10.2 million tons of carbon emissions annually. That’s more than the 38 percent that occurs as the products are manufactured in Asia or the 3 percent that comes from Apple’s own operations,” according to Bloomberg.
But as Jobs acknowledged to Burrows, Apple probably wouldn’t win many charm points with the greenies, simply because they don’t take pains to stroke them and don’t chime in with lip service on causes near and dear to those in the more militant environmental movement, who then take to their MacBook Airs to denounce Apple’s willingness to do so.
The Jobs Green Manifesto — You Squeakers are Clueless
Jobs himself even posted a rather long, detailed account on the Apple site of the company’s green efforts. The tone is set in the preamble:
“Apple has been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products, and for not aggressively or properly recycling its old products. Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas. Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well.”
Translation: “You squeakers need to do a bit of homework to learn what you’re talking about, because you’re clueless.”
Jobs outlined significant steps Apple took and was taking to improve their green cred, leaving no doubt what they thought of the greenie sniffers who slammed them but let other computer makers get away with similar practices: “In mid-2006, Apple became the first company in the computer industry to completely eliminate CRTs,” Jobs wrote. “The effect has been stunning — our first CRT-based iMac contained 484 grams of lead; our current third-generation LCD-based iMac contains less than 1 gram of lead. Apple completely eliminated the use of CRTs in mid-2006… Dell, Gateway, Hewlett Packard and Lenovo still ship CRT displays today.”
Take that, Apple-bashers.
Recycling: Apple Steps Up for E-Waste — Theirs And Others’.
Industry observer Steve Duda wrote a few weeks ago that Apple was enhancing its electronics reuse and recycling program “designed to help customers dispose of their unwanted electronics in a convenient and responsible manner.”
He described it as “customer friendly.” Simply send in your old iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC for reuse or recycling, and if it still has any monetary value, “Apple will send you a gift card for its fair market value for use at any Apple retail store or their online store.” They’ll also take any unwanted computers or displays, not only Apple products but anyone’s, if you call 877-712-2405 for a a free prepaid shipping label and box it up yourself.
Old iPods can be turned in to Apple stores for a gift certificate for 10 percent off anything in the store, and Apple will take care of the recycling. According to Duda, “Apple will also recycle any mobile phone for customers, regardless of brand.” Such efforts have helped the company divert “more than 130.2 million pounds of equipment from landfills since 1994,” according to Apple figures cited by Duda.
Gaining Some Respect: The Off-Grid Spaceship
But lately Apple has been getting some respect from the green community for their efforts. A couple months ago TreeHugger noted five impressive “green moments” in Apple’s history, including their spaceship-style off-grid company headquarters plans.
Not only is it “really elegant and beautiful” even if “isolated behind a wall of parking garages,” TreeHugger said, “there’s a lot of interesting green aspects to it: It’ll reduce the amount of asphalt on the property by 90 percent, increase the number of trees by 60 percent and the amount of landscape by 350 percent, and all of this while reducing the actual building footprint by 30 percent.”
And yes, it’s also going to be off-grid, “generating its own power and using the grid as a backup, but that electricity will be produced with natural gas,” according to a Jobs presentation to the Cupertino City Council.
And there’s just the simple energy efficiency Apple strives for, which has pleasant green side effects. When Apple launched new batteries for the 17″ MacBook Pro a couple years ago, TreeHugger noted, they lasted three times longer than the industry average: “The new battery can last up to eight hours on a charge, and can be charged 1,000 times, equivalent to about five years. It’s also recyclable at the end of its life.”
And when the Snow Leopard OS was replaced by Lion, it marked the eclipse of an OS “10 percent more energy efficient” than the OS 10.5.6. Figuring up annual sales of 10 million computers, TreeHugger said, “it could add up to a savings of 80 million kilowatt-hours annually. That’s the power of even small energy efficiency gains when they occur on a product or a company with tremendous reach.”
So thank you, Steve Jobs, not only for producing technology of such great value to the world, but for being better in your green status than many were willing to give you credit for.