Greenpeace responds on Apple ranking


Last week, chinadialogue’s US project director Linden Ellis wrote a blog about Greenpeace’s Greener Electronics Guide, which ranked Apple fourth greenest out of 15 electronics companies. How, she wondered, did Apple perform so well in this ranking, when just a few months earlier it came 31st out of 31 IT firms in a report from China’s Green Choice Alliance? Here is a response from senior Greenpeace campaigner Ma Tianjie.

We appreciate Linden Ellis’s comment on the latest version of our Greener Electronics Guide. It gives everybody an opportunity to have a close look at both ranking results that Ellis tried to compare (ours and the report from China’s Green Choice Alliance) and reach a more informed opinion of what both of them try to say.

First, the focus of the two guides/studies is very different. While the Green Choice ranking focuses on supply chain pollution and transparency issues, the Greener Electronics Guide ranks IT companies in the areas of energy use, hazardous materials and sustainable operations. We believe that both rankings provide valid information for the public to get a picture of Apple and other companies’ operations and impacts.

Moreover, it is worth pointing out the weighting of the different criteria in our guide. For example, paper policy counts for three points out of the total 69, as does recycled plastics use, while recycling rate counts for eight points. This shows the relative importance we assign to different issues. We believe that the co-existence of various NGO initiatives in assessing the environmental footprint of companies should be encouraged, not presented as conflicts. 

The first Greener Electronics Guide was first published in 2006 and its very aim at that time was to address the pollution in China and the Asian region (from the import of electronic waste), a concern that we share with Ellis and many NGOs here in China. By pushing the IT companies to phase-out a series of hazardous materials such as brominated flame retardants and PVC, we’re trying to reduce the amount of such materials in products, therefore preventing them from being released into the environment when they are dismantled, often in improper ways, as seen in some e-waste dismantling sites in southern China.

Over time, the criteria of the ranking have evolved and now cover not only the issue of hazardous materials, but also other important areas such as greenhouse gas emissions. We do this because we would like to present a more holistic picture of the industry. However, the use of hazardous materials remains an important part of our ranking. 

Greenpeace only assesses companies based on their public information and practice to ensure the ranking is transparent. That way companies can be held publicly accountable when they make commitments. Also, making those changes public helps drive competition between the companies and promotes information disclosure. 

What both the Greener Electronics Guide and the Green Choice Alliance study reveal is the need for far more progress from the industry in building truly clean, transparent and sustainable supply chains and reducing pollution, energy use and materials use. The fact that even HP, the highest ranking company in our guide, only scored 5.9 out of 10 (Apple scored 4.6 out of 10), shows that there is tremendous space for the whole industry to improve its environmental performance.

In this respect, the Green Choice Alliance is doing a fantastic job and they have our whole-hearted support. Raising public awareness is the key to driving all companies, not just Apple, in the right direction.