Apple product hazards put to shareholder vote

Apple shareholders will vote on a resolution at the company’s annual meeting May 10 on a proposal to remove certain hazardous chemicals from their products.

Apple’s board says it opposes the resolution, arguing that it already has adequate environmental standards.

The resolution was submitted by Trillium Asset Management, of Boston, an investment firm that specializes in making socially responsible investments. It holds shares in Apple and also is a member of the Investor Environmental Health Network, which pressures public companies to remove toxic material from its products, including makers of computers, consumer electronics, fertilizer and cosmetics.

The shareholder resolution asks Apple to produce a report, within six months of the shareholder meeting, on the feasibility of “eliminating persistent and bioaccumulative toxic chemicals, and all types of brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastics” from its products.

Certain flame retardants used in circuit boards and PVCs have been shown to be toxic.

Dell has committed to eliminating the materials from its products by 2009 but Apple, while showing concern, has been less specific, said Steve Lippman, vice president of social research at Trillium.

“Apple has just lagged,” said Lippman. “They have said they are addressing the issue, but they haven’t set any timetables.”

Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said the company details on its Web site its environmental standards and lists hazardous chemicals it is phasing out of its products or already has.

In June 2006, Apple announced it would end shipments to Europe of certain products, including the eMac desktop computer and the AirPort wireless access point, because they didn’t comply with the European Union Restriction of the Use of Certain Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations (ROHS). Dowling said the eMac has been discontinued, the AirPort redesigned and that all its products are now RoHs-compliant.

In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Apple argues for a no vote on the proposal: “Apple recognizes the need for environmentally responsible production and has a record of restricting harmful substances that goes back over a decade,” it states.

Apple’s environmental policies have come under fire from Greenpeace, which launched a Web site campaign advocating that the company adopt more stringent guidelines. The environmental organization has repeatedly ranked Apple at the bottom of all technology companies on a scorecard that tracks use of hazardous chemicals, recycling, and take-back policies.

Environmental issues won’t be the only topic on the agenda for the May 10 shareholder meeting. Shareholders will also look at whether to change the rules on how stock options are granted in the wake of an ongoing probe into option accounting irregularities at Apple.

Macworld.com contributed to this report.

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