Apple Worst, Lenovo First for Eco-Friendly Laptops says Greenpeace

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Al Gore, who’s movie "An Inconvenient Truth" won an Oscar award for its insightful look at global warming, sits on the Board of Directors for Apple Computer. So why is Apple rated the bottom of the barrel for eco-friendly products and Chinese based Lenovo praised by Greenpeace for being a leader?

It goes to show that not everything is intuitive or as it would seem for this world we live in.

Below is the table that Greenpeace published on their website to indicate the ranking for electronics manufacturers (most of which are PC or mobile phone makers) and where they stand now and how they’ve moved in the Greenpeace rankings over the past year and a half:

RANK MARCH 2007 DECEMBER 2006 AUGUST 2006
1 Lenovo↑ Nokia ↔ Nokia
2 Nokia↓ Dell ↔ Dell
3 Sony Ericsson ↑ Fujitsu-Siemens ↑ HP
4 Dell↓ Motorola ↑ Sony Ericsson
5 Samsung↑ Sony Ericsson↓ Samsung
6 Motorola↓ HP ↓ Sony
7 Fujitsu-Siemens↓ Acer ↑ LGE
8 HP Lenovo ↑ Panasonic
9 Acer↓ Sony ↓ Toshiba
10 Toshiba↑ Panasonic↓ Fujitsu-Siemens
11 Sony LGE ↓ Apple
12 LGE Samsung ↓ Acer
13 Panasonic↓ Toshiba ↓ Motorola
14 Apple↔ Apple ↓ Lenovo

Lenovo went from worst to first, while Apple has languished in last on the enviro-friendly meter over the past 18 months. Here’s how Lenovo compares to Apple on the Greenpeace scoring bracket and why they scored the way they did:

 

Ranking Criteria Criteria Explanation Lenovo Score Apple Score
Precautionary Principle Avoiding materials that are suspect and could cause environmental damage, even if the jury is still out on the long term effects of a material to the environment.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo scores top marks by improving its definition of Precautionary Principle.

1/3 Thumbs Down

Definition of precautionary principle reflects poor understanding of this principal in chemical policy

Chemicals Management How companies manage their supply chain, in order to ensure that suppliers do not continue to use substances that are banned or restricted.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo has now updated its Engineering Specification 41A7731 to reflect its commitments on eliminating PVC and BFRs. More information.

1/3 Thumbs Down

Apple provides only examples of substances that are on its Regulated Substances Specification 069-0135, but the Spec itself is not publicly available.

Timeline for PVC phaseout Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a chlorinated plastic used in some electronic products and for insulation on wires and cables. PVC is one of the most widely used plastics but its production, use and disposal create toxic pollution.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo’s target for elimination of all uses of PVC by 2009 earns the company top marks. More information.

1/3 Thumbs Down

Although Apple commits to eliminating PVC, there is no timeline for complete phase out.

Timeline for BFR phaseout BFRs, used in circuit board and plastic casings, do not break down easily and build up in the environment. Long-term exposure can lead to impaired learning and memory functions. They also interfere with thyroid and oestrogen hormone systems. Exposure in the womb has been linked to behavioural problems. TBBPA, a type of BFR used in circuit boards has been linked to neurotoxicity.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo’s target for elimination of all BFRs by 2009 earns the company top marks.

0/3 Thumbs Down

Although Apple commits to halogen-free printed circuit boards, there is no mention of eliminating all BFRs, and no timeline for complete phase out.

PVC-free or BFR-free models PVC and BFR are hazardous to the environment (see above) and manufacturers should offer products without these materials.

0/3 Thumbs Down

Although Lenovo has added Product Environmental Data Sheets, no products are entirely free of PVC or BFRs.

0/3 Thumbs Down

No PVC-free or BFR-free product systems. Apple lists only some PVC-free peripherals on its website

Individual producer responsibility It is important for a company to support Individual Producer Responsibility (IPR) as this shows positive action on getting its own brand products back for reuse and recycling.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo earns an extra point for strengthening their IPR position and for their support for legislation.

1/3 Thumbs Down

Apple refers to its "individually responsible approach" to recycling through its own takeback initiatives and national collective take-back programmes. The definition of IPR needs to be more explicit.

Voluntary takeback Not all countries require a company to help recycle its products, this criteria looks at what companies do in countries where there are no laws requiring them to do so. (Europe, Japan and South Korea require take back and recycling, most other countries do not)

3/3 Thumbs Up

Voluntary takeback is now offered in all countries where Lenovo has sales of its products. In December 2006, Lenovo announced in China, free take back and recycling of Legend and Lenovo branded PCs, laptops, monitors and servers, and ThinkPad laptops, ThinkCentre PCs, and ThinkVision Monitors, whether produced by Lenovo or IBM. Product recycling programs.

1/3 Thumbs Down

No voluntary takeback for every country where Apple products are sold and not for every type of product.

Information to individual customers This criterion rates companies on the information they provide to individual customers on what to do with their discarded electronics products e.g. free postal service, collection depots etc. Top marks on this criterion go to companies who provide easily accessible information to individual customers on what to do with their branded discarded electronics in every country where their products are sold.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo now provides takeback information to both business and individual customers in all the countries where the company’s products are sold.

1/3 Thumbs Down

No information in every country where Apple products are sold, not even in every country with EPR laws.

Amounts recycled Those companies that report on electronic waste recycling do so by providing annual or cumulative weight or units of electronic waste recycled. This metric does not allow an evaluation of how companies are doing based on (past) sales. It also makes it impossible to compare the recycling rates of different companies, given that every company makes a different portfolio of products of various weights e.g. mobiles only versus wide range of household appliances. Ideally, Greenpeace wants companies to report on recycling volumes/units based on the sales in year X (average age of the product when it becomes electronic waste). So, if the average age of an X PC when it becomes waste is six years, we want X company to report how many PCs (units or weight) it recycled in 2006 based on sales of PCs in 2000 as a percentage.

3/3 Thumbs Up

Lenovo now provides figures of e-waste recycled based on past sales, but is hampered by many of its business customers selling their e-waste to other companies and the fact that Lenovo’s global sales operations is only a year old.

2/3 Thumbs Up

Apple reports on amounts recycled based on weight and not percentage of sales. On the positive side, Apple acknowledges importance of responsible recycling i.e. no export of collected e-waste and bans recovery of plastics in smelters.

 

The overall score was Apple 2.7/10 and Lenovo 8/10. More details on each company’s environmental efforts, and what Greenpeace based much of its scoring on, can be found on their websites:

Greenpeace ranking explanations for Apple can be found here, and for Lenovo can be found here.

I will say that the Greenpeace ranking doesn’t look at the total picture. Apple is a minimalist when it comes to product packaging, that’s good and cuts down on waste. Greenpeace is also very focused on the production and end of life stages of a laptops life. Power management tools for a laptop are important in conserving electricity during the time a laptop is actually used, and Greenpeace didn’t look at this power efficiency aspect at all. Apple notebooks offer good power management tools. However, I think Greenpeace makes a strong point that Apple needs to get up to speed with some initiatives Lenovo has taken.

It’s more likely that somebody using a MacBook would have a Save the Planet bumper sticker than the banker who uses a business oriented ThinkPad. I’m certain most Mac owners wish Apple would do a better job avoiding PVC and BFR materials in their products and come up with a time table for phasing them out like other companies have commited to. We should applaud Apple for their design efforts, user friendly products, and great customer service. They should aspire to be like Lenovo and Dell in being more open and progressive about what their products mean to the environment. Right Al?

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