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Why Apple was bad for the environment (and why that's changing)

David Price | June 5, 2013
From self-centred hippyism to corporate responsibility: it's been a long journey for Apple

Happily for the environment, but sadly for this article, the river in China seems to have been cleaned up before any photographic evidence was captured. This 'after' shot comes from

Still, Apple, initially under Steve Jobs' guidance and then under Cook, has taken environmental criticisms to heart.

From bad Apple to green Apple
In 2007, shortly after getting its first spanking in a Greenpeace annual report, Apple published a document on its site that was at once case for the defence, and statement of intent. Steve Jobs named the areas where he believed Apple was already ahead of the curve in environmental terms; in others, he set out plans to improve.

"Apple completely eliminated the use of CRTs in mid-2006," he wrote. "A note of comparison - Dell, Gateway, Hewlett Packard and Lenovo still ship CRT displays today."

"Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of arsenic in all of its displays by the end of 2008."

"Apple plans to completely eliminate the use of PVC and BFRs in its products by the end of 2008."

And so on. But it wasn't just talk: Apple really did improve things.

It stopped using arsenic, PVC and BFRs; the iPhone 3GS was free of all three. Its data centres are now based on renewable energy (in 2012, Forbes reported on the company's plans to build the world's largest private solar array and fuel-cell farm for a new North Carolina data centre). And accusations of secretiveness were dealt with by beginning to regularly publish product reports so consumers could check the materials used and the environmental damage done. (You can read reports on its whole product range here.)

Which raises the question: given how seriously Jobs took Greenpeace's views - and given what we know about his ideals - why hasn't Apple always been a green company?

Steve Jobs: The inconsistent hippy
Apple's complex attitude to environmental issues seems at odds with company founder Steve Jobs' philosophical leanings, but he was himself a mass of contradictions. In that sense Apple was entirely cast in his image.

The classic counterculture success story, Jobs ticked many boxes for the 1970s hippy clich: unconventional, rebellious, meat-averse, passionately interested in Zen Buddhism, acid and meditation, barefoot, unshowered, apparently far less interested in the money he could make than the positive effects he could have on the universe.

In fact, Jobs' attitude to money was a little subtler than that. Occasionally he was obsessed with it - not for itself, but as a measure of how highly he was valued. He used to tell a good joke about his salary as interim CEO, which was the amusingly nominal figure of $1 per annum. ("I make 50 cents for showing up to one meeting and the other 50 cents is based on my performance.") But when the board tried to reward his turning around of the company with hefty remuneration, Jobs wrangled for more; he decided he wanted a personal jet.


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