There Goes Greenpeace Again.....

Arik Hesseldahl

There goes Greenpeace again, making noise with no substance to back it up. The Associated Press is reporting today what astute readers of already know, is that Greenpeace International, the global organization devoted to environmental activism, has been putting heavy pressure on Apple for its environmental practices.

Last week’s shot was a series of letters to Al Gore, the former vice president, longtime environmental spokesman, and current Apple director, calling on Gore to support some shareholder proposals before the board of directors concerning recycling and the elimination of certain harmful chemicals. This week, the AP’s bureau in Amsterdam has noticed that Apple’s position on Greenpeace’s deeply flawed “Guide to Greener Electronics” rankings is now dead last.

What’s not changed one bit is the fundamentally incorrect premise behind some aspects of the rankings. The most important ones concern the content of harmful chemicals used in PCs, including PVCs in plastics, and brominated flame retardants used to coat printed circuit boards and thus prevent fires. These are nasty substances, this I won't deny. But in both cases Apple gets poor grades from Greenpeace while Dell gets better grades, despite the inconvenient fact that both are in exactly the same boat: stuck. Both would like to stop using these chemicals, and both have said so publicly. Dell says it will stop using them by 2009. Apple hasn’t been quite so definitive in regards to a precise date that it intends to stop, but it is otherwise equally committed to the issue. The result, among PC makers, Dell is way ahead, though now behind Lenovo, in Greenpeace’s rankings, while Apple drags dead last.

This is just an easy example of the flawed methodologies behind Greenpeaces’ “rankings” on this issue. Here’s another hint about why Dell did so well, from my colleague John Carey, who in a story in the March 12 issue of the magazine. After being hit with high-intensity protests, Dell decided to play ball with Greenpeace, creating a wide-ranging recycling program, (make no mistake, this is a good thing) committing to eliminate PVC and BFRs (again a good thing, provided it happens).

But then there was also this: On Jan. 10, in a speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show, Michael Dell, still not back in the CEO’s seat at this point, launched a program called “Plant A Tree For Me,” in which Dell would ask customers to donate $2 for every notebook they buy and $6 for every desktop they buy to go to the Conservation Fund and the Carbofund, two environmental organizations that seek to help the environment, one by planting trees, and one to reduce or offset carbon emissions.

Don’t get me wrong. All of these actions do Dell credit. But it just looks fishy, especially against the backdrop of all the negative press coverage Dell has been getting concerning its financial condition, and the SEC investigation, the exact nature of which is still undisclosed.

As Carey pointed out in his piece, the reason activists like a firm commitment like the one Dell has given is that when the date arrives, they can really lean on the company to meet its commitment. But what if no suitable replacements for either PVC or BFRs are found by 2009? Why not wait and commit to change “as soon as feasible?” That appears to be Apple’s position.

Meanwhile, as I also pointed out last week, the cleanest PCs, according the Evironmental Protection Agency’s E-Peat criteria come not from Dell, but from Apple. Go and look it up yourself.

I’ll be the first to applaud if and when Apple makes some new environmental commitments, or announces that it has independently created a truly eco-friendly PC. But I hope nothing it does comes as a result of Greenpeace’s misguided bullying based on misleading the computer-buying public.

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