Apple CEO Steve Jobs fired back at environmentalists, saying the company leads rivals such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard in eliminating toxic chemicals and ramping up recycling plans.
Long criticized by groups such as Greenpeace and the Computer TakeBack Campaign for not trying harder on environmental issues, Jobs issued a statement Wednesday titled "A Greener Apple." Before he laid out what Apple has already done and what the company will do in the future, however, Jobs said a failure to communicate -- both internally and with the public -- was at least partly at fault.
"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," Jobs said near the top of his open letter. "Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well."
Apple's policy of not disclosing plans, added Jobs, compounded the problem. "This policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple's desires and plans to become greener."
Off the market
To kick off a change in that policy, Jobs noted that Apple no longer sells CRT monitors, which contain significant amounts of lead. He also said the company has completely eliminated hexavalent chromium and some brominated flame retardants from its products. Competitors, including Dell, HP and Lenovo Group, still market tube monitors, and as for the toxics he mentioned, Jobs said, "Some electronics companies, whose names you know, use these toxic chemicals in their products today."
Jobs also promised that Apple would eradicate arsenic and polyvinyl chloride from its products by the end of next year.
He also took a shot at Greenpeace, whose annual Green Electronics Guide scores companies on their efforts to remove harmful chemicals from products and on their policies regarding take-back efforts through which vendors assume responsibility for their products once they're discarded by consumers. In the December 2006 scorecard, Apple ranked lowest, with a rating of 2.7 out of a possible 10. Lenovo, HP and Dell rated 5.3, 5.7 and 7, respectively.
"In one environmental group's recent scorecard, Dell, HP and Lenovo all scored higher than Apple because of their plans (or 'plans for releasing plans' in the case of HP)," said Jobs. "In reality, Apple is ahead of all of these companies in eliminating toxic chemicals from its products." Jobs also set a goal that called for Apple to recycle nearly 30 percent of its products, by weight, by 2010.
"I hope you are as delighted as I was when I first learned how far along Apple actually is in removing toxic chemicals from its products and recycling its older products," Jobs concluded. "We apologize for leaving you in the dark for this long."
Airing the dispute
Groups have at times resorted to public protests against Apple. In 2005, for example, the Computer TakeBack Campaign (CTBC) flew an aerial banner reading "Steve, Don't Be A Mini-Player. Recycle all E-waste." above Stanford University when Jobs gave the commencement address there.
Some of those organizations applauded Jobs' announcement even as they declared that there was more to do. Greenpeace, for instance, congratulated Apple users for pushing the company greener. "You've proven you can make a real difference. You convinced one of the world's most cutting-edge companies to cut the toxic ingredients out of the products they sell," the organization said in a statement. Greenpeace also immediately bumped up Apple's environmental score to 5.
"We're really happy that the work of a lot of groups moved Apple to this announcement," said Aditi Vaidya, the program director of the Silicon Valley Toxic Coalition, one of the member groups of CTBC. "It's been a long time coming. But now that Apple has set benchmarks, we will see how they meet them."