Response to "Apple Computers: Fun For You, Toxic for the Environment", by AlterNet staff, with my response at the end.
Our readers questioned whether Apple deserved its low environmental rating from Greenpeace and what can be done to green the tech industry.
These days technology is so much a part of our lives that we sometimes forget to think about where it comes from -- and importantly, where it goes when we are done with it. This week we published a story by Jess Hemerly about Apple computers, which was recently ranked by Greenpeace at the bottom of the list of eco-friendly tech companies.
The story elicited a number of passionate responses from readers, some of whom felt the folks at Mac were unfairly targeted considering the rest of the industry's track record.
Apple is certainly no worse than its peers, and is better than some, regarding the environment. Seriously, the idea that any computer is good for the environment is pretty crazy. There's nine times as many PC's as there are Apples in the trash heaps of the world, and there's not a nickel's worth of difference between an Apple carcass and a Dell carcass, I'd wager, in terms of harm to the environment.
As other posters have pointed out, what is needed for electronics and computers -- especially -- and for all products in general, is a pricing system that would include "cradle to grave" provisions for mitigating harm to the environment for the entire life of the product. Everything would quickly become of much higher quality, would last longer, and would be more expensive, too. That's the kind of carrot-and-stick regulation that government could impose, but doesn't for all the grubby reasons we are all too familiar with these days.
Other people also mentioned the issue of durability and thought that Apple's lifespan should be taken into consideration -- arguing that people go through their PCs quicker than their Macs.
In her article, Hemerly compared Apple's environmental policy to that of Dell, citing Dell's recent commitments to providing free recycling to their customers worldwide and their recent "Plant a Tree for Me" campaign that allows consumers to pay an extra $2 for their computer purchase to go towards reforestation.
But one reader said that that Dell's efforts were more symbolism than actually productive environmental efforts. Thoughtcriminal wrote:
Just because Dell allows you to make a $2 donation to a 'plant a tree campaign..." -- that makes them a responsible greenwashed company? What's needed is a generalized government-regulated e-waste recycling industry that provides safe working conditions; you could simply place a small tax on all computer and electronics gear sold in the U.S. to help fund such a program.
I mean, go down to your nursery, buy some trees, and plant them yourself -- your $2 feel-good donation to Dell is nothing but green marketing (that you get to pay for!)
Several other readers also thought that since Apple was abiding by the laws, they shouldn't be singled out for punishment, but did suggest that this is a problem that should be addressed with federal regulation.
Dell may be marginally better than Apple -- but neither one is going to bend over backwards to do what is right if it cuts too far into their bottom line.
While I think it is valuable to point out things like this, unless they are actually breaking the law I don't see any value in singling out Apple or any other company. We cannot expect corporations to do the right thing (in any situation, environmental or otherwise) if there are not strict regulations in place to punish them harshly for doing the wrong thing.
The problem is the entire corporate system and the weak regulatory laws of our government -- that is where we should focus our efforts. That is the only way to force companies like Apple to pay attention.
While some people felt that it was the government's job to legislate change, others found the article helpful in letting consumers know that they can begin demanding that Apple and other companies, start doing more to protect the environment.
Ghoulman, a Mac user, wrote: "I think all the right points are put out in this article. Computers, and electronics in general, are a dirty little landfill secret ... I'm glad someone is upping the environmental anti."
Likewise LarryGroff wrote:
I am also a long time Mac and PC user who is very concerned about the environmental impact of my computers. I would agree with those who take Jess Hemerly to task for not investigating thoroughly enough about Apple's environmental record and the superficiality and grandstanding of Greenpeace's Green my Apple campaign.
However, Apple is a large corporation whose business goals are far ahead of any other concern, to think otherwise is naive. Apple is not a movement regardless of how we might wish it so. But it is good that Apple is getting the green lights blasted on its facade as it may prod them to indeed move ahead and make their environmental decisions even more carefully and boldly if they fear that their reputation and popularity are at risk.
Hemerly herself, responded to our readers' comments and asked that we see the bigger picture intended in her piece.
First, I can assure you that I did very thorough research that included conversations with both Apple and Greenpeace. The Apple spokesperson I talked to was very friendly but there was little room for discussion because that's simply how the company operates. She walked me through their site and I read everything. I wrote my piece based on the information I was provided. If Steve Jobs wants to sit down with me and talk about environmental policy and the Greenpeace campaign, I will jump at the chance. As it stands, that hasn't been presented as an option. The spokesperson from Apple directed me to the Roughly Drafted site, which is a great spin on things but it is, like my own piece, one writer's conclusions. As the reader, you are your own filter and it's up to you to choose what you want to accept or dismiss.
I do not envision Steve Jobs as some evil king looking down on a polluted world from his gleaming white polymer spire. I do envision Apple as a company of innovation and one that has in its own words asked people to "Think Different." And now that Greenpeace has decided to turn it around and ask them to do the same, everyone is up in arms. Is it because Greenpeace is the organization doing the asking? Greenpeace is not hurting Apple. Apple continues to gain market share and turn in record profits as a result of the Halo Effect the iPod spawned. Greenpeace is simply asking a company that champions innovation to pitch in and be as innovative when it comes to the environment.
Michael Dell and his company were used in this piece to contrast Apple's tight-lipped attitude toward environmental policy. Dell is not perfect and neither is Apple, or Nokia, or Fujitsu, or any of the companies who make the devices we take for granted everyday. They all have serious faults and questionable practices when it comes to various aspects of business. But is Dell bringing green ideas to the table? Absolutely. And a table full of ideas is where change begins.
Yes, better regulations should exist, and so should a litany of regulations that require all companies, technology and otherwise, to do more to help the environment. But given the political climate of the United States right now, it's unlikely that any progress will be made here anytime soon. Thus, Greenpeace has been forced to turn its efforts toward something that can produce results. Have we become so jaded that we are willing to give any company a bye just because it's "business as usual"?
Of course, Apple is not the only company contributing to the e-waste mess. But they are the only company that makes beautiful machines that people are willing to shell out extra money to carry with them for reasons ranging from cool factor to basic operation. Is it really so crazy to ask them to make their beautiful machines cleaner than the rest, to really go out and set the standard? They are not the "little guy" anymore. They're a serious contender and that becomes more evident every time they gain a percentage of the PC market share.
You ask me, "Why Apple?" I ask you, "Why NOT Apple?"
In the end, there is no doubt that the technology we use is toxic -- and that more can and should be done to ensure that it is made and disposed of as safely as possible. It is always easier to point to someone else to take the responsibility for making that happen -- but whether we want the government to regulate it or companies to prioritize it -- it is still up to us to make that happen.