Toxic Vendors Will Need Standards to Clean Up Their Act


Corporate accountability director says the recent green leaf Apple turned over is only a small step along a long road to full tech industry carbon disclosure

When Apple turned over a new leaf and disclosed some of the details of its carbon emissions a fortnight ago, its critics point out that it was only a start.

Apple claimed, with the launch of its green reporting initiative, that its carbon reporting process, which takes into account the total product lifecycle, went further than any of its rivals in taking full account of its emissions.

Admitting to 10.2 million tonnes of carbon emissions, the computer maker seemed to have trumped closet rivals, HP and Dell, who admit to operational equivalents of 8.4 million and 471,000 tons respectively. But within its figures, Apple also said its consumers were responsible for 53 percent of this output.

“But the assessment Apple came up with raises as many questions as it does answers,” said Conrad MacKerron, director of corporate social responsibility programmes at the As You Sow Foundation, a corporate accountability group.

MacKerron told eWEEK Europe that the As You Sow Foundation had been among those organisations, including ethical investors like Calvert Group, Green Century Funds, and activist groups like Greenpeace, calling for years for more ethically responsible behaviour from technology firms, like Apple, HP and Dell.

“As You Sow engaged with the biggest hardware makers about four years ago and got a meeting with Steve Jobs, where he agreed to triple the takeback rate on end-of-life electronics. It seemed as if it was lagging behind its peers, but it made good on that promise,” he explained. “But since then, we looked at its response to initial carbon disclosure enquiries and it was really poor.”

As a result, the Foundation filed a shareholder resolution last September asking Apple to disclose more specific data about their carbon emissions. Although Apple has increased it commitments to recycling as well as reducing the amount of toxic vinyl plastic (PVC) and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from its products, its new openness did not go far enough.

“We have to take these numbers on trust,” MacKerron added. “For example, how did Apple weight the carbon used in mining the materials that go into the Intel chips that end up in its products? And did it actually go and measure, model or estimate these figures?”

He particularly made special mention of the 53 percent of emissions Apple says its customers are ‘responsible’ for. “How did it analyse electricity consumption for each consumer and product? And did it take into account the variations in energy costs across all the countries in which its products are used? There’s no explanation of how they reached that figure.”

But whatever short time points Apple may score with its new environmental push, an agreed, standard carbon reporting requirement is the only way to ensure a level playing field. “Otherwise, IT manufacturers will measure their carbon footprints in a proprietary way that is conducive to making their companies look good,” he said.

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