Evidence of Apple's environmental intentions

Written by David Tebbutt, MacUser 11/91 item 01 - scanned

For years now, the Americans have been more aware than us of the need to do something about the mess we're all making of the environment. Ten years ago, I was hiring cars in California which ran on unleaded fuel and used catalytic converters. I don't think either development had even been considered in the UK at that time.

The speed limit in California has been 55 miles per hour on most roads for many years - although I think this has more to do with the need to conserve fuel than any environmental concern. And, for several years, car sharing has been encouraged, not only by exhortation, but also by allocating a lane of some freeways during the rush hour to cars containing more than two people.

If you climb to the top of one of the mountains that fringe Silicon Valley, you find yourself looking down on a brownish photochemical smog. This is trapped by cool air flowing over the western mountain range from the Pacific. So it's little wonder that environmental awareness is such a big deal.

In the UK, we are far more apathetic about these things - so it was not surprising that an innovation which rated an entire press release in the US only got a paragraph at the end of Apple's recent product launches. The paragraph, entitled "Brown Boxes", told us why Apple was changing from white to brown packaging for its new machines.

Earlier this year I met Apple's resident green man, Omar Khalifa, when he visited England. He was full of mission-speak on how concerned Apple was about the environment. He pointed, quite rightly, to the abandonment of chlorofluorocarbons in Apple's printed circuit board production process. He also hinted at other environmental improvements Apple would be making in the future.

I wasn't very kind to him in print. I wanted more concrete information about Apple's intentions and, in July, I went back to see Khalifa in his eyrie, high in a Cupertino office block. He wanted to tell me how unreasonable he thought I'd been, and to explain more of the company's plans. Unfortunately, he made me sign a non-disclosure agreement, so you've had to wait for the official announcement, and impending evidence of the company's good intentions, before I could reveal what he told me. It's a good measure of Apple's paranoia that it makes you sign non-disclosure agreements about corrugated fibreboard boxes.

The information that I've been bursting to give you since the beginning of July is that Apple is going to pack its new products in brown boxes instead of white ones - some immediately, some later on.

Brown boxes don't use up as much energy in the manufacturing process, nor do they use as many environmentally harmful substances, such as bleaches and dioxins. Nor, dare I say it, do they cost as much as the posher packaging that Apple felt was essential for its image. There's no denying that Apple has got to save money any way it can, as long as it doesn't impact product quality or company image. Now, of course, environmental friendliness is the right image to have. Apple's moves are better for the planet, better for its pocket and better for its image. A well-timed hat trick.

The innards of these boxes will use a much higher proportion of recycled board and, wherever possible, substitute foam packaging with thin mylar film, stretched across corrugated fibreboard frames. The contents of the boxes will be squashed into place between two pieces of film. Apple's other plans include the use of recycled paper in documentation, and better packaging for manuals. When I spoke to Khalifa in July, Apple was having difficulty securing supplies of suitable recycled paper.

Apple is also keen to attack another looming environmental problem. This one concerns batteries, such as those supplied with its new notebook computers. According to the US press release, these 75 pound (sterling, not weight) batteries are expected to last about two years (I bet they don't tell you that when you buy one), and they are stuffed full of toxic material. Cadmium and lead should not be disposed of in landfills or incinerators. Apple's answer to this is to take back its own batteries and take responsibility for their recycling and the proper disposal of the toxic residue.

In the UK press release, Apple also says its corporate policy "pledges the company to do business in a manner that conserves the environment and protects the health and safety of its employees, customers and the communities in which it operates". It goes on: "Apple believes that a comprehensive environmental, health and safety programme is an essential component of its business approach." Well, that's nice to hear. It's even nicer now that we're getting concrete evidence of the company's good intentions.