How green was my Apple

In the past year, Apple extended its recycling program to let U.S. customers safely dispose of older computers (PCs as well as Macs) and iPods when they buy a new computer. That program is just part of Apple’s efforts to recycle old electronics, which the company details on its Web site. You could certainly argue that Apple could be doing more with its environmental policies, but you can’t deny that it is doing something. Indeed, earlier this year, the investment advisor to the Sierra Club Funds recognized Apple and nine other publicly-traded large cap companies for “excellence in their environmental efforts.”

So what does Greenpeace, another environmental organization, have to say about all this?

“Apple’s bad green policy is not a wonderful life for workers in the scrap yards of the developing world,” Rick Hind, the legislative director of Greenpeace USA’s Toxics campaign announced via press release Wednesday. “And we can’t imagine that Steve Jobs would want to be the Mr. Potter of the high-tech industry this holiday season.”

Well, that seems pretty cl… wha ?

The quote above came as Greenpeace released a quarterly update on tech companies’ efforts to combat electronic waste. Apple was the lowest-ranked company in Wednesday’s update, just as it was in the initial report released back in August. The Greenpeace report ranks the 14 top manufacturers of computers and cell phones on everything from chemical policies to having acceptable recycling programs in place to “taking responsibility for waste.” Since those are pretty subjective criteria, it seems like Apple finished in last place pretty much because Greenpeace decided the company would.

I’m not trying to be flippant with that observation. It seems Greenpeace’s biggest beef with Apple is that the computer maker hasn’t made enough promises for its liking. “We’ve been meeting with Apple for three years now,” Greenpeace campaign coordinator Zeina Alhajj told Macworld ’s Jim Dalrymple. “We have asked for a commitment, but Apple said, ‘We don’t give commitments, we do things.’ We haven’t seen any commitments, so far.”

Of course, one can probably understand Apple’s reluctance to work with Greenpeace, considering the organization launched a Web site that seems to suggest that the only thing that would make Apple a bigger polluter is if Steve Jobs was behind the wheel of the Exxon Valdez. I don’t know about you, but if an organization treated me like that, I would start to think that maybe it was less concerned about working with my company to reach constructive, mutually agreeable solutions and more interested in using my company’s high profile to win attention and publicity. But I’m cynical that way—I’m sure the recognizability of Apple’s brand is the furthest thing from Greenpeace’s mind when it decides who’s been naughty and who’s been nice.

I don’t mean to absolve Apple of any responsibility here. I’m sure people can go through its recycling policies and find areas for improvement. I wouldn’t mind Apple making its stand on these things more visible—there’s a pop-up link at the bottom of Apple’s online store page but nothing visible on the home page. And the company could be better about addressing these issues in the media—we contacted Apple as part of our coverage of the Greenpeace report, and it would have been nice if someone in the company would have called back to explain exactly what Apple is doing to reduce electronic waste.

But if Apple’s public efforts could stand some improvement, so could Greenpeace’s by a long shot. If the goal is to make it so that computers are made and disposed of in an environmentally-friendly way—and it should be—then it would seem like the smart move would be to use Apple’s high-profile positively, not as some sort of piñata to be bashed in public every couple of months. The latter approach might win you the publicity battle, but it’s unlikely to help you win the war.

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