Friday Rant: Apple's Sustainability Bigots — Lies, Damn Lies and Green Statistics

The reason we personally bought a Mac has nothing to do with green. For me (Lisa) it's about getting lean (e.g. reducing set-up and cycles times if we use a manufacturing analogy) and of course practicing what I preach on MetalMiner (I had to have a metal aluminum Mac). For Jason, it more closely services the two gears his body supports -- fast and stop (he is either running himself ragged or sleeping and has no time for anything in the middle).

When it comes to sustainability, we probably do okay (not great) as a couple in terms of our overall carbon footprint because we drive only one car and take public transportation whenever possible. After all, changing consumption patterns -- in both the home and the office -- has a much more drastic impact when it comes to sustainability issues than simply modifying how a product is made. But we still suppose Apple is still to be commended for getting more serious about tracking and measuring sustainability throughout its extended supply chain.

According to the above-linked Macworld article, Apple is adding measurement and audit teeth to its supplier code of conduct, auditing all of its suppliers and publishing the results by product. For example, Apple has now certified that its 17-inch MacBook Pro "is free of BFRs, which are often added to plastics used in electronics and other products... [and] The MacBook Pro is also free of PVC." Still, Macworld suggests, the true sustainability loonies (e.g., Greenpeace) aren't about to let Apple off just yet.

Another report, "The Ceres report", in Macworld's words, "acknowledged Apple's efforts to remove toxic chemicals from its products, but knocked the company for not releasing more details about its 'carbon footprint,' the amount of greenhouse gases that it generates in regular operations." Despite these two studies, we personally think the notion of measuring -- and comparing -- carbon footprints across companies and regions is absolutely absurd given that we're currently only looking at a partial picture of actual carbon emission.

How do we figure? Well, if we truly care about low carbon footprints, we should seek out countries that not only have the lowest cost of production, but also the lowest purchasing power parity. Why? Because the less income employees have to spend, the less they are likely to go out and buy things like cars, scooters, televisions, etc. that contribute significantly to carbon emissions. Yet the notion of supplier income and purchasing power never factors into green equations. Perhaps a factory powered by a nasty coal belching Mao-era plant in China might lead to a greener total product -- provided its employees are kept from making a decent income -- than a completely green plant powered by wind in the west (or China, for that matter) whose employees make a better living.

Food for green thought next time you power-up your Macbook -- or see another myopic carbon footprint study or accusatory tirade by Ceres or Greenpeace. Seriously though, if you care about green -- and promoting green inside your organization -- don't get too excited about these studies. Focus on changing demand patterns if you really want to make a difference. And think outside of the sustainability box (e.g., the lean/green/clean of avoiding all the wasted time, energy and computing power that your employees spend waiting for Microsoft operating systems and products to load-up vs. a Mac.)

If you're really up for reducing the carbon impact of your supply chain, balance the need to make sure that your suppliers are not running a sweat shop -- after all, there's multiple elements of sustainability you have to account for -- while making sure your suppliers' employees make as little as possible, have few places to spend it and/or have low purchasing power parity. Sound absurd? Sure it is (even though we guarantee it would have a positive carbon impact). But so are all the carbon studies and critiques you see of Apple and others. If you really want to be green, use an etch-a-sketch.

Jason Busch and Lisa Reisman

PS. Here are some green ideas for the metal content of those aluminum Mac's (among other computer devices using metals).

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