December 31st, 2008
At Climate Counts, we’re always tracking companies’ actions on climate. In the below article from The Wall Street Journal, check out the latest on Apple.
By Ben Charny 12/31/08
SAN FRANCISCO – Apple Inc.’s eye-catching logo - an apple with a bite taken from it - has come in many colors in the past. Now, the iconic computer company is trying to prove its commitment to the color green.
In recent advertising, the Cupertino, Calif., company presents itself as an environmental leader. Apple’s Web site bills its new line of MacBook computers as “the world’s greenest family of notebooks.” It now makes iPods and iPhones free of polyvinyl chlorides and brominated flame retardant, and it’s in the final stages of making all of its products without bromine and chlorine. Both chemicals have been criticized for creating toxic byproducts.
Competitors and environmentalists, however, say Apple’s green efforts have less to do with cleaning up its products and manufacturing and more to do with marketing. In a recent blog posting, a senior executive at Round Rock, Texas-based Dell Inc. said he was “surprised” by Apple’s claims of environmental-friendliness. Environmental groups, like Greenpeace, point to surveys ranking Apple below other computer makers, such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard Co. in green practices.
“Apple is… guilty of using ‘green’ as a marketing ploy, rather than making green a core part of their business practices,” said Stephen Stokes, vice president of business and climate change at AMR Research Inc.
Determining Apple’s “green-ness” is difficult because much of the information reported to authorities, like the Environmental Protection Agency, is provided voluntarily. Both Apple and its detractors have ample data to make their cases. However, Apple’s recent decision to highlight its environmental efforts leaves the company’s eco-track record open to scrutiny and criticism at a time when green issues are coming to the fore.
Success in promoting its record could help Apple lure more consumers, who are increasingly considering the environmental impact of their choices, to the company’s products. That could help Apple spur sales and its slumping share price, which has fallen 57% so far this year, far worse than Morgan Stanley Technology Index’s 47% drop.
Apple declined to comment for this story, but Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs said in an October report on Apple’s Web site that his company was committed to developing green practices.
“I’m proud to report that all of Apple’s new product designs are on track to meet our 2008 year-end goal,” Jobs wrote. Among those: eliminating polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants from all its products by 2009, and removing mercury and arsenic from its products’ displays.
Apple also has taken steps to release more information about its environmental policies, which have helped its image. A recent survey by the Diffusion Group, a Dallas research company that studies the impact of green products on consumer decisions, found consumers view Apple as the world’s greenest company.
“Chalk it up to effective marketing,” said Michael Greeson, president of the Diffusion Group, of Apple’s green reputation.
Still, eight of Apple’s nine MacBooks - the computers it markets as the world’s greenest family of notebooks - received the EPA’s gold standard for meeting environmental soundness criteria. Those notebooks garnered an average of 19.5 per unit on 21 optional measures suggested by the EPA.
By comparison, eight notebooks made by Taiwan’s Asustek Computer Inc. got the top rating, along with perfect 21 scores.
Dell and Hewlett-Packard, each of which submits more notebooks to the EPA for rating than Apple, also have products with gold ratings. Both companies have lower marks on the average optional measures. H-P, which has about 45 notebooks rated, averages 17.5. Dell, with 27 notebooks rated, averages 18.4.
But critics say Apple doesn’t compare as favorably on other measures. For example, Dell and Hewlett-Packard report buying much more clean energy than Apple; Dell 58 times more, and Hewlett-Packard five time more, according to the latest disclosures the companies made to the EPA database.
Each company reports its figures differently so the numbers aren’t directly comparable because the companies are of different sizes. Still, they suggest other computer makers are making greater strides toward green business operations than Apple.
Other companies also appear to be making more progress than Apple on reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are blamed for global warming. Hewlett-Packard reduced direct greenhouse gas emissions - one of three types that are tracked - by 25% over the years, according to data the Palo Alto, Calif., computer maker provided to environmental regulators. Over the same period, Apple reported a 3% reduction in “emissions” in its 2008 environmental update.
Apple wouldn’t specify which emissions for this story.
Apple also has slipped in the EPA’s Fortune 500 Challenge, which asks companies to buy more alternative sources of energy, like wind or solar power. As of October, Apple ranked 35th, one place lower than it did in January. Over the same period, Dell rose to 12th from 31st, while H-P rose to 21st place from 22nd.
In November, Apple also dropped to 14th on the Greenpeace corporate environmental scoreboard, though the company’s overall score rose to 4.3 from 4.1.
The apparent difference between Apple’s environmental record and its green rhetoric has prompted ire among some of its competition.
Earlier this month, Bob Peterson, who runs environmental affairs at Dell, blasted Apple’s recent marketing campaign in a blog posting. He said he was “surprised” by Apple’s claim and that at least two Dell notebooks have better environmental ratings than Apple’s.
“We wish Apple would be more bold in making a difference than making ads,” Peterson wrote.
Apple also declines to provide key details about its manufacturing process to the Carbon Disclosure Project, which collects data about corporate greenhouse emissions via annual questionnaires that are publicly available. Rivals Dell and Hewlett-Packard answer most of the group’s questions.