A view of how the Greenpeace organization used a misleading smear campaign to generate media attention.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
For some reason, it’s not very shocking when the Greenpeace organization is collectively labeled as a bunch of lunatics. The Greenpeace organization has a reputation for its bold tactics in order to get recognition and media coverage. However, when their actions are based on incorrect information, they are no better then common thugs or criminals.
What’s in a name?
With a name like Greenpeace, how can they go wrong? Who doesn’t want to support an organization that promotes environmental awareness? Both the names “Green” and “Peace” represent philosophies we all want to embrace.
So, what’s wrong?
Unfortunately, when an organization’s tactics are harmful without justification, the organization themselves become the problem and not the solution. Worse, actions from the lunatic fringe of any organization can push back the legitimate progress made by other more respectable organizations. Just out of curiosity, I did a Google search on the words “Greenpeace” and “lunatic” and the resulting list of sites that referenced the two words in the same sentence was staggering.
Specifically, what have they done recently?
Okay, this is a technical blog, not a forum based on environmental issues. Most recently, Greenpeace has decided to attack Apple. There is certainly nothing wrong with singling out an individual manufacturer if their practices are environmentally less friendly in some significant way. In fact, if your mission is to actually change the environment, you should constantly be directing your efforts to change the practices of the least environmentally friendly company.
Unfortunately, that’s not what Greenpeace did. Instead, they targeted the most “popular” company. Apple has been enjoying a great deal of success in recent years. Apple’s computer business is up, its market share is rising, the iPod is a smash hit, the iPhone preview has had more media coverage than any product that’s not even shipping. Consequently, Apple’s stock has gone through the roof (metaphorically speaking). Other PC manufacturing companies just aren’t newsworthy. They make the same boring commodity products with only the most minor differences to distinguish one from another. There’s nothing wrong with that, Dell certainly makes lots of money for example. However, out of the popular computer manufacturers, (Dell, HP, Lenova, Gateway, Apple, etc.) which company receives the most media attention? Apple. Which company did Greenpeace target? Apple. Coincidence? I think not.
Where’s the proof?
My question is, why was Apple singled out amongst all of the computer hardware manufacturers? Are Apple’s manufacturing practices the worst environmentally? If so, then Greenpeace may be justified in their actions. If not, then Greenpeace is exposed as a media whore, just attempting to keep their name in print, in hopes of attracting more donations.
I’ve read numerous reports and criticisms coming from Greenpeace, but I’ve yet to see anything other than vague accusations which are not backed up by quantifiable or measurable facts. It appears as though Greenpeace’s greatest criticism about Apple isn’t based on actual manufacturing details; rather it seems to be based on the fact that Apple does not publicly discuss these details. In fact, Greenpeace scored other manufacturers higher based on promises they’ve made to make improvements in the future. In the case of HP, it’s a promise to make a promise to make a plan in the future.
The following illustrates my point of why Apple is the target.
Is Greenpeace Off the Mark on Apple?
by Arik Hesseldahl
“Apple makes for a convenient target, given its splashy, event-based marketing efforts, slick TV ads, big profits, and brand cachet among young, affluent consumers who tend to identify themselves with left-leaning causes like environmentalism. And let’s face it, Steve Jobs, the vegetarian with a penchant for generous donations to Democratic politicians, doesn’t discourage the connection.”
The following illustrates the point that Greenpeace’s scoring criteria is based on public commitments to make changes rather than what each company is currently doing. That is, there is no scientific evidence to support Greenpeace’s actions against Apple specifically.
“But there’s a problem with Greenpeace’s claims. Let’s start with the issue of PVC. Apple and Dell still use it in certain parts, notably the plastic insulators on internal cabling. Still, Dell gets more credit on the PVC issue. Why? Because Dell has said it plans to stop using PVC by 2009. This even though, given its volume, Dell is flooding the world with far more PVC than Apple. Dell shipped 39 million PCs in 2006, more than seven times Apple’s 5.3 million, according to researcher IDC. Apple, too, has committed to eliminating PVC but hasn’t set a definitive date.
Now let’s look at BFRs, which are used to laminate printed circuit boards, in part to keep computers from bursting into flames. As with PVC, Dell has promised to eliminate their use by 2009. Again, Apple has promised to do the same, but hasn’t set a date. Meanwhile, both are waiting for the computer industry to settle on better alternatives that don’t have such negative environmental impacts.
As of now, neither Apple nor Dell—nor Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) for that matter—is selling a single PVC- or BFR-free computer. So in truth, Greenpeace has graded Apple based on statements, not actions. Both Dell and Apple are in the same boat, but one is saying the right things in public, and getting applause for it.”
What are the facts then?
According to the EPA, which actually conducts scientific tests, Apple is actually better than the others PC manufacturers. Perhaps not significantly so, but it’s certainly clear that Greenpeace’s actions against Apple specifically are unjustified.
“So in the grand scheme, according to the EPA, Apple has the most eco-friendly notebooks, the 4th most eco-friendly desktop, and monitors that aren’t too shabby. But, are they far and away better than other manufacturers? No. Could they be better? For sure.
Turns out that assuming that GreenPeace has their facts straight is a very bad assumption indeed.”
As one begins to investigate the claims made by Greenpeace, it becomes clearer that this is a media stunt designed to create attention for the Greenpeace organization, at the potential cost of the reputation of another company. If Greenpeace at least had the facts on its side, there might be some justification for their tactics and pressure they’ve put on Apple. However, as it stands now, the facts seem to be in favor of Apple at the expense of Greenpeace’s reputation.
A Greener Apple
Clearly, with all of the media attention generated by Greenpeace, Apple was forced to respond.
“Apple has been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products, and for not aggressively or properly recycling its old products. Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas. Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well.
It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener. Our stakeholders deserve and expect more from us, and they’re right to do so. They want us to be a leader in this area, just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today we’re changing our policy.”
Apple follows this comment with a comprehensive list of each toxic chemical that’s used along with current recycling programs, etc. Along the way, they make it clear that they are ahead of the other manufacturers in most respects. If it’s true, why shouldn’t they? Here’s an example:
“A note of comparison — In 2007 HP stated that they will remove PVC from all their packaging. Apple did this 12 years ago. Last year, Dell began the process of phasing out large quantities of brominated flame retardants in large plastic enclosure parts. Apple’s plastic enclosure parts have been bromine-free since 2002.”
It’s a shame to have to point fingers at your competitors, but it’s hard to blame Apple for these actions. Dell, HP, Lenova, etc. aren’t pointing the finger at Apple. They wouldn’t have ground to stand on if they did. Rather, Greenpeace was trying to create the illusion of Apple being significantly worse than the others. Naturally, Apple was forced to defend itself.
Greenpeace celebrates a victory??
So, what really happened? Apple produced a document which details its current actions along with future plans. In short, there was no change in policy in any way that would influence a change in procedure in terms of the use of toxic chemicals in manufacturing, etc. Instead, Apple simply publicly stated its current and future plans with regards to environmental issues.
The following statement on the front page of the Greenpeace web site certainly implies much more.
We’ve all been working towards it and now it’s happened: the words “A Greener Apple” on the front page of Apple’s website, with a message from Steve Jobs saying “Today we’re changing our policy.”
Again, just to clarify, Apple didn’t change its policy with regards to making improvements to its environmental practices. Apple’s change of policy was simply to pacify Greenpeace by communicating these plans. Seeing as though this was the only real criteria that Greenpeace was using for its measurements, I suppose this is a win for Greenpeace. But, what have they really accomplished? Open communication in terms of Apple’s future plans? Okay. But, does this change the environment in any tangible way? I don’t think it does, certainly not directly anyway.
They go on to try to illustrate their victory.
“Recently, Apple put a banner with the words “A Greener Apple” on the front page of its website, linking to a personal letter from Steve Jobs. In it he says in effect that Apple’s consumers, employees, shareholders and the industry “want us to be a leader in [becoming greener], just as we are in the other areas of our business. So today we’re changing our policy.” That’s right, people: you’ve done it — you’ve moved Apple.”
“And to all the Apple fans who have contributed your thoughts, and blogs, and creativity to this campaign, you deserve to savor this first taste of a greener Apple. Grab your ipod and do a happy dance. You’ve proven you can make a real difference. You convinced one of the world’s most cutting edge companies to cut the toxic ingredients out of the products they sell. “
Maybe I’m missing something, but every article I’ve read, including personal blogs seem to have been backing Apple on this. Where are all of these “blogs” that have contributed to Greenpeace’s campaign? Greenpeace claims that this movement has “convinced one of the world’s most cutting edge companies to cut the toxic ingredients out of the products they sell.” Where is the evidence that Apple is doing anything different other than publicly stating its existing status and future plans?
Getting Apple to publicly state future plans is no easy task. Greenpeace did score a victory on that issue. However, I fail to see that they’ve made any significant impact on the environment based on this action. It’s also clear that they’ve overstated what they’ve actually accomplished.
Steve Jobs addressed members of the Greenpeace organization in a recent stockholder’s meeting.
Jobs addresses backdating, environment at shareholder meeting
By Jim Dalrymple
“I think your organization particularly depends too much on principle and not enough on fact,” Jobs said to the Greenpeace representatives. “You guys rate people based on what people say their plans are in the distant future, not what they are doing today. I think you put way too much weight on these glorified principles and way too little weight on science and engineering. It would be very helpful if your organization hired a few more engineers and actually entered into dialog with companies to find out what they are really doing and not just listen to all the flowery language when in reality most of them aren’t doing anything. That’s my opinion.”
Jobs then gave an example of his complaints: In looking for alternate means of producing products without hazardous chemicals, he said, Apple talked to some of the only organizations in the world that could make it happen. Despite the fact other computer makers have claimed they were working on alternatives, Jobs said Apple was the first computer company those organizations had actually heard from.
Jobs then offered to help Greenpeace improve its measuring technology, saying that while Apple supported the idea of an environmental report card, it needed to be a real report card based on science.
“Something that simple could go so far in our opinion,” said Jobs. “We are not going to set up a big infrastructure to engage environmental groups. We are real interested in getting the work done.”
That certainly makes sense to me. If a company is to be judged for its actions, the judgment should be based on facts. Any scoring criteria that is heavily based on promises to make changes or in some cases, promises to discuss making promises to make changes in the future, should not be given any credibility.
From the evidence I’ve seen to date, there doesn’t seem to be any justification for Greenpeace’s actions. Prior to this situation, my opinion of Greenpeace was relatively neutral. Greenpeace does have a reputation for outlandish publicity stunts in order to get media attention. If the cause is truly just, I don’t have a real problem with that. Apple, like other manufacturers producing products in the same category, certainly has room for improvements. That said, there doesn’t appear to be any valid justification for singling Apple out from this crowd. As highlighted in my comments earlier in this article, Apple has enjoyed much success and media attention in recent years. By contrast, Dell, HP and Lenova all sell more computers and are apparently less environmentally friendly companies based on the scientific results conducted. If Greenpeace was truly interested in making the environment better, all three of these PC manufacturers should have been the target of Greenpeace’s “activities” prior to Apple. These “activities” were nearly terroristic in nature and minimally a disruptive smear campaign.
During the process, Greenpeace was able to get Apple to publish its current practices and future intentions. That is certainly a win and apparently the major criteria for which they were judged. It’s unfortunate that Apple had to be forced into such a policy, especially if they were leading the pack in terms of environmental practices all along. Apple’s “Greener Apple” report didn’t actually change anything in terms of what’s happening with the environment, but it did give Greenpeace the “out” in which it could claims some form of victory. Unfortunately, Greenpeace appears to be making much grander claims, immediately followed by a prompt to donate money to their organization. To me, this media stunt was nothing more than a shameless staged event in order to gain media attention and ultimately gain more donations. From my perspective, the more I read about Greenpeace, the more I was turned off by their organization’s actions.
In general, I support the efforts of organizations that legitimately work to improve the environment. If Greenpeace was truly interested in this goal, they would target the worse offenders and follow Steve Jobs’ advice by hiring a few engineers to actually conduct legitimate tests and to work with manufacturers to find better alternatives to their current practices. I understand that media stunts are necessary to get attention and ultimately fund their organization. However, I’d have a lot more respect for them if they were less of a façade and more interested in affecting change in the environment. It is my view that organizations like Greenpeace that are on the “lunatic fringe” of the environmental advocates, actually do more harm than good by casting a negative aura over the overall environmental movement. In short, they make it difficult for more legitimate environmental organizations to be treated with the respect they are due.