Apple scolded by Greenpeace for environmental policies

Apple got low marks for eco-friendly policies from Greenpeace in a survey of electronics companies by the environmental group. The Cupertino, Calif.-based computer maker ranks fourth from the bottom in Greenpeace’s survey, finishing ahead of only Acer, Motorola, and Lenovo.

“For a company that claims to lead on product design, Apple scores badly on almost all criteria,” Greenpeace said in its Green Electronics Guide. The report, published every three months, scores companies on their use of hazardous chemicals, recycling, and take-back policies. It uses information published by the companies.

Apple doesn’t publish a list of regulated substances it uses in its products, Greenpeace said. The environmental group also faulted Apple for not releasing timelines for eliminating polyvinyl chlorides (PVCs) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs), and only selling a few peripheral items free of PVCs.

While Apple has take-back programs in place in some countries, it reports the weight of recycled products and not the percentage of sales, Greenpeace said. Apple received one positive mark, for not exporting e-waste, an issue for developing countries that may mishandle hardware with toxic substances.

Apple said it disagreed with Greenpeace’s ratings and criteria. The computer company said it has eliminated cathode ray tube monitors containing lead from its product lines along with cadmium and hexavalent chromium in manufacturing.

A small amount of mercury is used in Apple’s flat-panel displays, as the element is used throughout the industry for backlight lamps, the company said. Apple is looking for an alternative.

Apple defended its environmental record at this year’s annual shareholder meeting in April, noting that a lot of the eco-friendly efforts made by the company get overlooked because they happen behind the scenes.

Mobile phone giant Nokia received the highest rating in Greenpeace’s survey. It scored highly for eliminating its use of PVCs, which are widely used but difficult-to-recycle plastics that cause the release of dioxin, another toxin, when manufactured. The Finnish company plans to stop using BFRs by the start of 2007, Greenpeace said.

Lenovo, which took over IBM’s PC business in May 2005, came last on Greenpeace’s list. The company has not committed to eliminating PVCs or BFRs or defined a “precautionary principle,” a set of guidelines governing actions that could cause environmental damage, according to Greenpeace. The vendor also has a limited take-back policy in some countries which Greenpeace called “partially bad.”

Lenovo disputed the findings, saying it offers recycling to all of its business customers—a service not detailed on its Web site. Lenovo has continued IBM’s Environmental Management System, a program that covers manufacturing and product design, and is meshing that system with its own, pre-existing environmental policy, it said.

“Lenovo meets or exceeds applicable environmental regulations globally, and we don't believe Greenpeace’s ranking accurately reflects Lenovo’s environmental record,” the company said in a statement.

None of the companies scored perfectly. Even first-place Nokia, for example, doesn’t release figures on the number of units it recycles, according to Greenpeace. The vendor should also more clearly define its precautionary principle, the environmental group said.

Other companies that scored well for their environmental policies were Dell and Hewlett-Packard.

[ Philip Michaels contributed to this report. ]

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