Jobs rebuts eco-group claims at annual meeting

Apple on Thursday held its annual shareholders meeting at the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. While the majority of the question and answer period went smoothly, a group of environmentalists drew the ire of Apple CEO Steve Jobs as he sought to set the record straight. Jobs also used the opportunity to take a swipe at Microsoft’s upcoming “Longhorn” operating system.

Down to business

The first order of business was to vote on resolutions, including the re-election of the current Board of Directors. All current members of the board, including Fred Anderson, William Campbell, Millard Drexler, Al Gore, Steve Jobs, Arthur Levinson and Jerome York, were re-elected for another term.

Shareholders also voted on a performance bonus plan, amendments to the employee stock option plan, and the ratification of independent auditors KPMG — all passed the preliminary vote without comment from the shareholders.

One shareholder motion asked the Board of Directors to implement a performance and time-based restricted share grant program for senior executives. This did not pass the preliminary vote.

Jobs defends Apple’s environmental policies

A group of environmentalists at the meeting chastised Jobs for Apple’s policies on recycling. Specifically, the group recommended that Apple should collect unwanted computers at no cost, suggesting that PC makers like Dell and HP take back systems for free. Currently Apple will recycle computers for a US$30 charge.

“There is a lot of inaccuracy here — I’ll give you an example. Dell and HP don’t do it for free,” said Jobs. “HP charges $40 and Dell charges $20 — we are right in the middle. Apple has a really strong environmental policy.”

Jobs took on the group’s charges one at a time until he had covered all of the topics. The specific issues the group had that were:

1. Apple should start a consumer take-back program where Apple recycles old equipment.

“We’ve had this program for the last four years,” said Jobs. “In the last year alone we have recycled over 1,500 tons of equipment. The group protesting that believes we should do this for free, but we don’t because we believe the responsibility lies not just with us, but also the consumer.”

2. The group says that Apple has been lobbying against state legislation in Minnesota and Maine requiring companies to setup take-back programs.

“This is just not accurate,” said Jobs. “We have been working with Minnesota to create an electronics waste program — we absolutely believe they should have a take-back program. In Maine, we were the only electronics company to get involved.”

3. The group says Apple uses prison or forced labor in the recycling programs.

“This completely untrue. We don’t use any prison or forced labor in our recycling programs or anywhere else,” said Jobs.

“It’s been suggested we do this in software development,” joked Jobs, which brought laughter from the crowd.

4. The protesters say Apple ships hazardous e-waste overseas.

“This is untrue, we don’t ship any e-waste overseas,” said Jobs. “The only thing we ship overseas is ground up plastics that are shipped to make new recycled plastics — this is a good thing.”

5. The protesters call the iPod “a time-bomb for our health and environment because of the toxic materials that will either go into incinerators or landfills.”

“This is untrue,” said Jobs. “There is a small amount of lead in the iPod and we are working to get that out. To call the iPod an environmental time-bomb is just inexcusable.”

6. The group is saying the batteries in the iPod are environmentally irresponsible because they’re not easily user-serviceable.

“We completely disagree,” said Jobs. “As you know most consumers simply throw batteries away when they wear out — this is not the environmental outcome we all want. Apple already has a battery and take-back program in place for both the iPod and the iPod mini.”

“Why is this group spreading this disinformation about Apple’s environmental policies?” asked Jobs.

“We don’t really know, but we think their goal is to use Apple’s visibility to gain publicity for their own group,” said Jobs.

According to Jobs, the leader of the group told the Kansas City Star last month, “We picked the iPod to go after because it’s the hippest thing around.”

“Well they have good taste in picking the iPod, but that doesn’t make their false statements true.” said Jobs.

“This is just [nonsense],” said Jobs to the clapping shareholders.

Microsoft and Tiger

Jobs was asked a variety of other questions from shareholders ranging from why there were no women Board members to the success of the Mac mini and what the company is doing to promote the Macintosh in advertising.

When asked about the release of Mac OS X Tiger and Microsoft’s Windows, Jobs was very succinct.

“They are shamelessly trying to copy us,” said Jobs. “I think the most telling thing is that Tiger will ship at the end of the month and Longhorn is still two years out. They can’t even copy fast,” Jobs said to the cheering crowd.

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