Apple's going green, it says here

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 06/91 item 01 - scanned

The world seems to be turning green before my eyes. Manufacturers of all sorts of things from hairspray to motor cars have discovered the benefits of presenting their products as environmentally friendly. More and more advertisements are showing companies and products in this green light. Shell was one of the first with its idyllic shots of fertile valleys - a year after some socking great pipeline was buried there. More recently, BMW hit us with its 3-Series car: 80% recyclable, running on unleaded fuel and sporting a catalytic converter - a rich source of the globe-warming carbon dioxide.

If things carry on at the present rate, we've probably got until Christmas before we start suffering 'green fatigue'. In order to compete with each other, companies will have either to jump on the green bandwagon, pretend they've jumped on it, or point out that they were green long before the bandwagon was built. Unfortunately, like compassion fatigue, our diminishing interest will not alter the underlying realities. People will continue to die in Ethiopia, Bangladesh or Iraq, whether we're fed up with the requests for our cash or not. Similarly, the environment will continue to suffer long after the green advertisements stop working.

But what's this got to do with you and your Mac? The answer is simple. The computer industry has, for a long time, pumped large quantities of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the atmosphere. According to scientists, these chemicals have contributed significantly to the thinning of the ozone layer and to the consequent skin cancers and other problems down here on earth.

Over the years, a number of manufacturers have tried to make computers without using CFCs, which are used to clan printed circuit boards. Manufacturers have experimented with a variety of water-based and non-CFC chemicals, and now Apple is trumpeting that it, too, has found a way of producing computers without CFCs. In fact, it has gone one step better and invented a manufacturing method in which boards don't need to be cleaned.

Is this the first sign of Apple spotting the green bandwagon? The company is treating environmental issues in the same way it would a new computer or peripheral. It has appointed an environmental issues manager, Omar Khalifa, to help spread the word. Khalifa has five years' product marketing experience with Apple. It seems he has carte blanche to seek out areas in which Apple is being green and then to package each message up and market it to the consumers and to the distribution channel.

Now I'm totally in favour of Apple being green and clean, but I find it distasteful that it can just assign a product manager with no previous commitment to environmental issues to head the green awareness campaign as if 'green-ness' were just another product. This is no criticism of Khalifa. He's pleasant and clearly interested in his new area of responsibility, but he has a lot to learn. For example, he'd never heard of one of the major campaigning groups in Apple's heartland, The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition, and couldn't tell me what the hazards of water and terpene-based cleaning systems were. Maybe I was expecting too much from Apple's green man.

Khalifa was on much firmer ground when it came to discussing specific Apple initiatives and intentions. Apart from eliminating CFCs from board manufacture, Apple has stopped using foam packaging with the LC and Classic keyboards. Its main emphasis in the future will be on recycling machine components and packaging materials.

Apple is talking to General Electric about ways in which it can reuse plastic, and also aims to maximise the recovery of metals, and other usable material from printed circuit boards, rendering any waste non-toxic before dumping it. Its motives are not entirely altruistic - the cost of dumping hazardous waste in the US is already four to five times the cost of regular waste.

Khalifa believes it is Apple's responsibility to tell customers and users what to do with redundant equipment. It is also incorporating environmental considerations into its product design. For example, batteries must now be optimised for charge time, recharge life and environmental impact.

It's good to know Apple has appointed an environmental issues manager. Having met the man and listened to his brief, I'm sure it's not just a lip-service job. But let's hope it's not too long before he has some more concrete information for us. Apple has always fancied itself as the BMW of the computer industry, so may I suggest that a Mac equivalent of the new 3-Series would make a perfect start. Preferably before green fatigue sets in.