Greenpeace gives Apple a B- for its green electronics efforts

Apple leads when it comes to environmental efforts, but it can do better.

Greenpeace gives Apple a B- for its green electronics efforts
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Apple is setting a “new bar in terms of corporate responsibility” when it comes to green electronics. Meanwhile, Samsung continues to disappoint with its lack of leadership here, said Gary Cook, senior IT campaigner at Greenpeace USA.

Where Apple leads on the green electronics front

Apple’s commitment to the environment puts the company far ahead of every other firm, bar Truphone, according to the latest Greenpeace Guide to Greener Electronics.

The annual report assesses firms for the sustainable manufacturing and design of IT products. It rates corporate transparency, commitment, performance and advocacy efforts in three critical areas: reduction of greenhouse gases through renewable energy, use of recycled materials, and elimination of hazardous chemicals. 

Seventeen companies were rated (results below). I caught up with Cook to discuss what Greenpeace found.

He pointed to Apple’s steady improvements in terms of its data center and cloud operations and its “steady progress” toward 100 percent renewable energy. On the hardware side, he notes the following changes across the last 12 months:

  • Announcement of the long-term commitment to making their products with closed loop materials.
  • Significant progress as Apple expands the number of suppliers that have made commitments to power the Apple-related portion of their energy demand with 100 percent renewable energy to “now up to 14 suppliers.”
  • Continued leadership on climate and energy policy advocacy, particularly in advance of President Trump's announcement of intent to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement.
greenpeace green it overall rankings Greenpeace

Greenpeace's ranking of computer manufacturers

Apple’s work to eradicate conflict minerals from use within its product manufacturing process also won some praise.

“Apple, Microsoft and HP seem to have the strongest due diligence efforts [to limit use of such minerals]” he said, citing the Mining the Disclosures report by the Responsible Sourcing Network.

Apple’s environmentally negative decisions

Cook pointed to a couple of environmentally negative Apple decisions, including the company’s advocacy against right to repair legislation and product design that, he says, inhibits “repair or upgradeability of the product, particularly in Apple laptops or products that are truly disposable by design, such as the Apple Pen or Airpods.”

Now, I might argue that as devices become increasingly complex, it is possible that future conversations around green electronics will migrate from reparability toward complete product recycling, but we aren’t there yet.

Such a closed-loop system is a recent commitment by the firm. “Apple's recent commitment to a closed-loop supply chain is an important step, which should be followed up with more specific goals for a priority set of high impact materials,” Cook explained.

Consumers can send a message

The current U.S. administration holds one set of facts, but the scientists who invented the technology that the administration uses to communicate generally believes a completely different set.

Since the new administration took power, some manufacturers “have leaned in even more than before, particularly on climate change, because they have made big commitments to renewable energy and want policies that will increase their supply of renewable power, not a return to burning coal,” Cook said.

When choosing a smartphone (or any other electronic device), consumers can send a message to manufacturers by thinking about the environmental consequences of their device when they shop, he said.

Consumers should “recognize that the device they are purchasing required a lot of the earth's resources to produce.” With that in mind, they should seek out well-made, robust devices and think about the ease of repair/upgrade for such devices, he argued.

“They should look to learn more about how it was produced (for example with renewable energy that is better for the climate/without hazardous chemicals that risk the health of the workers or the surrounding environment),” Cook said.

Samsung needs to show more leadership

“Companies at the bottom of the Guide rankings need to hear from their existing customers who expect better, as well as from prospective ones that ultimately chose a different brand that is taking their environmental responsibilities more seriously,” Cook said.

Concerns over reparability cannot mask Apple CEO Tim Cook’s leadership position in green electronics. It’s a bar that Greenpeace’s Cook would like to see emulated by other big tech firms.

“Apple is already helping to set a new bar in terms of corporate responsibility for its supply chain footprint with its commitment to 100 percent renewable energy,” he said.

“Clearly a company that we need to see more leadership from is Samsung, given their place in the market as one of the largest producers of smartphone and computing devices, but also as a significant supplier of IC, displays and batteries to many of the other electronic brands in the Guide.

“The rapidly growing Chinese brands that currently occupy the bottom of our rankings are now super important. …” This will demand “big steps forward on environmental performance to match the rapid ascent they have achieved in global market share of their devices.”

Computer manufacturers' green electronics scores

This is how the tech firms scored in this year’s report:

Fairphone: B

Apple: B-

HP: C+

Dell: C+

Lenovo: C-

Microsoft: C-

Sony: D+

Acer: D+

LG: D+

Google: D+

Huawei: D

Asus: D

Samsung: D-

Amazon: F

OPPO: F

Vivo: F

Xiaomi: F

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