There was a lot of excitement in our Mac-heavy office last Tuesday: Apple announced their new line of “green” MacBook and MacBook Pro laptops. ”Each casing cut from a single piece of aluminum…” “toxic materials all but eliminated…” I overheard at least one employee talking about buying one that week.
Remembering back to how Apple’s been jeered for not cleaning up their products, what factors have caused Apple’s embrace of the green?
One possibility is corporate social responsibility (CSR) trend-spotting. One of Enviromedia’s clients, Dell, has been lauded in the electronics community for the speed and sincerity of changes made to their practices. They recently reached their goal of carbon neutrality, five months ahead of schedule, by purchasing carbon offsets, wind power and installing energy efficiency measures throughout their campus in Round Rock, Texas. Dell has also developed smaller, more energy-efficient PCs to reduce individual users’ power requirements and is making bigger strides each year in recycling e-waste. In many consumer goods areas, “green” has become both a buzz-builder (i.e., consumers get excited about easy and fashionable ways to green their lives) and a proactive requirement (i.e., companies are removing toxic materials before Congress or the EPA mandates they do so).
Apple has clearly been watching its competitors and their sustainability efforts and didn’t want to ignore the trends of addressing environmental concerns. However, their changes have been primarily in their end-products, removing harmful chemicals like brominated flame retardants (BFRs), PVC vinyl plastic, mercury and arsenic in glass components, as well as bringing all of their computers and peripherals up to Energy Star 4.0 efficiency standards.
Another possibility is pressure from outside actors, in particular Greenpeace and Climate Changes, who both publish “green electronics” guides. Apple placed 13th in Greenpeace’s guide, which ranks according to energy efficiency, toxic substances and recycling. A major component of Greenpeace’s rating system is based not just on the greenness of the hardware, but also on CSR transparency, supply flows (including recycling), chemicals management and use of renewable energy. Building trust with consumers and advocacy groups with openness about a company’s practices is nearly as important today as cleaning up one’s supply chain or reducing one’s carbon impact via offsets or renewable energy.
Though Greenpeace praised Apple’s end-product improvements, Apple “failed” by Greenpeace’s standards of setting carbon offset/GHG reduction goals, incorporating renewable energy into their processes, and weak recycling/takeback initiatives. How much of a prod this kind of chastisement provides isn’t clear, but Apple has gone out of its way to highlight environmental improvements in their product line this year, making a big show of transparency and incremental steps.
That said, CSR reporting overall, the impacts of advocacy groups challenging that reporting and “green buzz” appear to be driving Apple towards improving its products and practices voluntarily, even if it’s not at the pace consumer groups would like.
Does that mean I’m about to drop $2K on a new MacBook Pro? Well, not immediately: I’m in grad school, which means my bookbagged-and-battered Powerbook G4 has to hang in at least another year and a half. But as a longtime Mac user, Apple’s shift towards greening their products has given me another reason to stick by the brand.