Rotten Apple

August 28th, 2006  |  Published in etc  |  2 Comments

Toxics Report: Dell C, Apple F:

Companies were scored on a scale of one to ten, with Dell and Nokia each scoring a seven. Last place Lenovo scored a 1.3 and was given bad marks for poor recycling and phasing out particular materials, areas where Motorola, at 1.7, scored poorly as well. Acer, at 2.3, also was ranked “bad” for recycling, as well as other areas.

Apple scored a 2.7 and was given “bad” marks for the progress of its phaseout of BFRs (brominated flame retardants) and for its use of polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a chlorinated plastic commonly used to insulate wires.

Yeah, it is pretty disappointing. It’s also … noteworthy … that there are companies that did worse than Apple, but since they’re Acer, Motorola and Lenovo, and have a little less brand recognition, they don’t get the headlines. On the other hand, Greenpeace’s own report singled out Apple, so who can blame the poor journos for being led by their collective deadline-stressed noses? (Besides “all of us,” that is, but we’re too busy accusing the press of sharing biases with our most mortal enemies, whoever they are and wherever on the political spectrum they fall to actually demand good press release stenography, too.)

From the Greenpeace report itself:

For a company that claims to lead on production design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria. The company fails to embrace the precautionary principle, withholds its full list of regulated substances and provide no timelines for eliminating toxics polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and no commitment to phasing out all uses of brominated flame retardants (BFRs). Apple performs poorly on product take back and recycling, with the exeption of reporting on the amounts of its electronic waste recycled.

The whole report is interesting, and each graded company gets a PDF scorecard that explains things in further detail.

In the process of looking for someone who didn’t ding Apple for being better than a few of the others (and look … I really don’t mean to seem like I’m harping on that as if it somehow exculpates Apple, even though I can think of several sites that will imply just that by tomorrow morning, several making the sort of snorting references to ManBearPig we can thank South Park for injecting into the environmental debate), I found an interesting bit from the CSM on retailers who leverage their influence over their supply chains before a boycott can get rolling:

Ethical sensibilities, clearly articulated among the buying public, seem to be driving this latest corporate cleanup. Just the prospect of a backlash at the cash register can be enough to trigger new policies, as the Amazon soy case suggests.

In April, days after Greenpeace International released a report detailing the illegal destruction of rain forest in order to grow soybeans, McDonald’s investigated whether its suppliers were involved. Within weeks, a coalition of European food sellers led by McDonald’s had united to demand new purchasing policies from the three implicated firms: Cargill, Archer Daniels Midland, and Bunge. On July 24, the three announced a two-year moratorium on buying soy from newly deforested areas. Meanwhile farmers, buyers, activists, and regulators plan to come up with a system to verify ethical soy-growing practices.

Though major news outlets covered the Greenpeace report, the issue was resolved before consumer outcry had amounted to more than a peep. That’s because McDonald’s is eager to settle controversial supply chain situations before they fester into public-relations nightmares, such as the antisweatshop campaigns that proved costly to Nike and the Gap in the 1990s.

Anyhow … it bugs me that Apple is doing this poorly. It really does. None of them are that great, but it all comes back to taking what steps you can, even when the steps you can take aren’t the best ones. In this case, it probably means taking the G3 iBook in to see if it’s truly dead, and only replacing it if it is. And if we do replace it, this report poses some hard questions about what choice we’ll have to make.

I especially don’t like the notion that Apple’s secrecy mania, which already involves suing the bejeebers out of amateur journalists, extends to refusing to tell its customers what kinds of hazardous materials it’s using. If it bothered to do even that much, I could at least mime sitting down with some impenetrable sheet written by people who loathe both English and consumers and comparing Apple’s list of evil shit with Dell’s then making up my mind. But Apple’s not even interested in letting its customers do that much. That’s bullshit.

Would I switch back over this? It’d be a pain in the ass, because the iMac is still very new and I hate living on two platforms at once. At the same time, the iMac can run Windows (or Linux) and I have a serviceable clone in the closet if I chose to just sell the iMac to someone and get over the pain of bidding Apple a fond farewell.

I wonder what other people, who perhaps looked at the recent Pilgrim et al flapdoodle over Apple’s relative freeness, who maybe dusted off copies of Aquamacs or wondered if they could make do in Linux because proprietary software bothers them on some moral level, make of this sort of news. Does it matter more or less? Linux is free, so you don’t have to pay anything except the sudden depreciation to exactly $0.00 of all your Mac-only software to make that switch. And people will still come read your blog if it’s keyword rich in “how to do x in Linux for Mac users,” but you’ll have to get new friends if you suddenly stop caring about bash scripts and start worrying about green computing.

So what if it turns out that not only your operating system is in mild conflict with your ethics, but the box it runs in, the only box you’re allowed to run it in, is more poisonous than comparable boxes? Or do you decide Microsoft is more immoral than a toxic dumper and stick with Apple because three-eyed fish splashing around the ponds in Cupertino are better than fat and happy criminal monopolists in Redmond who get a small skim each time you buy a whitebox with a Windows preinstall?

And Jesus … here’s hoping no report comes out on Nintendo before the Wii hits the shelves, or I’ll be super-double-plus bummed!


  1. gl. says:

    August 29th, 2006 at 9:59 pm (#)

    “So what if it turns out that not only your operating system is in mild conflict with your ethics, but the box it runs in, the only box you’re allowed to run it in, is more poisonous than comparable boxes?”

    /sigh i think it means i continue to buy apple products, but add it to the list of political issues that require me to write letters to people and support campaigns and volunteer and track its status. i’ll do that right after the abortion issue dies down.

    this sort of reminds me of the post you recently wrote about being good & its contradictory nature. : “I’d say that it’s an inability to acknowledge contradiction, and perhaps the occasional thimble or bucket of hypocrisy we indulge as a result, that makes people stop even trying to do anything right.”

    i’m sick, so the tone here probably sounds more aggravated than i am. less smileys. but you provoked me enough to feel guilty, and this is all the response i got.

  2. No Conversion » Observation says:

    August 30th, 2006 at 11:06 am (#)

    […] Attachment (to a brand) causes suffering. this! […]

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