Greenpeace takes companies to task over their lack of commitment to the environment. They’ve rated a number of popular electronics manufacturers in three main categories, energy, resources, and chemicals. Energy is easy to understand: a good rating means renewable energy sources used with low or no emissions in the production and sale of a product. Resources is what’s needed to make the product and sustain it over its lifetime. This includes the rare earth metals in smartphones, whether or not the materials used are recyclable, and how long the devices can last without needing replacement. Finally, there’s chemicals. This is the use of hazardous materials in the manufacture of our devices. There’s a reason you can’t just throw an old phone out. Besides the fact that it can mostly be recycled, there’s also toxic materials within these devices that can be released if damaged or burned, as people who work in recycling plants may have to do. Performing well in all three categories makes the planet safer and lowers the human cost of creating the electronics we take for granted every day. Apple didn’t score the best, they received a ‘B-,’ with Fairphone, a company that prides itself on designing phones to be as ecologically green as can be, taking the top spot. What could Apple be doing better?
Yes, they could be doing a lot better. Fairphone is only scoring a ‘B’ on this chart, but they’re still beating Apple. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, transportation, manufacturing, and even parts just cannot be made perfectly safe yet. Apple does well with energy, as they’re powered primarily by renewable energy all over the world, but they still have to ship via planes, boats, and trucks, all of which use fossil fuels. Apple also performed decently in chemcicals, scoring a ‘B.’ Apple’s completely free of PVC and BFRs, Apple was the only company to score an ‘A,’ even Fairphone only scored a ‘C+.’ PVCs are plastics and BFRs are flame retardants, both of which can produce harmful chemicals when burned, which are dangerous in rudimetnary recycling facilities. Unfortunately, not all recycling facilities are safe, and employees are often exposed to these dangerous chemicals. PVCs can slowly leak out of products over decades, polluting landfills with carcinogens. Only Google and Apple have eliminated BFRs and PVCs from their products. Apple couldn’t get a perfect score though, because they can’t completely control their supply chain. Their partners may be making unethical decisions without Apple’s knowledge, or, perhaps, while Apple has turned a blind eye.
The biggest mark against Apple is the Resources category. This is the amount of material that companies use to make their products. But it’s more than that. This also includes the turnover rate of the hardware, how long it can go without repairs, how easy it is to recycle, and how easy it is for the owner to repair. When you can repair and upgrade your own device or get it repaired at a shop rather than exchanging it or replacing large parts of it, you save resources. Apple’s new MacBooks have so much soldered to the board that replacing the keyboard involves replacing half the laptop, and fixing the solid state drive requires an entirely new logic board. Apple has even begun to glue parts in place, requiring them to be broken to replace. As a result, Apple products create a ton of waste when they break down. Apple’s use of highly recyclable materials like aluminum, steel, and glass is its only saving grace, but they still scored poorly thanks to their impossible to repair designs. Apple’s also fighting “right to repair” laws, which allow consumers and repair shops to repair their own devices and gain access to official parts they may need. Apple wants to force users to come to Apple stores for even small repairs, so they’re reluctant to allow users to do anything with their devices. This also hurts Apple’s resources score. If you ask me, their rating should likely be lower in this category, especially when you consider Apple’s other annoying design: poorly crafted cables that fray and need frequent replacement. If users can repair and upgrade their own electronics, they use them longer, thus creating less waste. But Apple wants consumers buying new products as often as possible, and they’re willing to sacrifice the planet to do so.
When it comes to protecting the environment, Apple is one of the most dedicated companies. However, there’s more that they could do. They could invest in infrastructure and transportation, ensure they watch over their suppliers more carefully, they could make their devices easier to repair, provide instructions for at-home and 3rd party repairs, and they could stop fighting right to repair laws. Fairphone will have them beat as long as Apple continues to fight reparability, as Fairphone will eventually get their supply chain, energy usage, and chemicals in order, excelling in areas that help the environment that Apple refuses to consider. Apple should be commended for how far they’ve come, but they’ve got much further to go. My dad always jokingly referred to second place as “first loser” (which explains my competitiveness). It’s usually an inaccurate statement, coming in second doesn’t make you a loser if you were giving it everything you’ve got. But in the case of Apple, they’re in second place specifically because they’ve chosen not to do better for the planet. In this situation, Apple really is the first loser.
- Juli Clover, MacRumors: “Greenpeace Gives Apple a B- in ‘Guide to Greener Electronics.'”
- Greenpeace: “Guide to Greener Electronics 2017“