Monday, October 22, 2007

Greenpeace vs. Apple

The confluence of some unexpected free time and an especially-interesting piece of news lead to me writing here again. The topic of this piece is, of course, the controversy stirred up by Greenpeace's targeting of Apple Inc. for the latter's use of what Greenpeace and probably many scientists deign dangerous chemicals.

I pride myself on being well-informed about many environmental issues. Unfortunately, there are so many happening all at once that I find it impossible to stay abreast of all of them while also focusing on school. Maybe someday, God willing, I will get paid to inform myself about these things. (This blog will then undoubtedly be published on a subscription model.) The issue of dangerous chemicals in electronic products is not one that I am familiar with on an objective level -- that is, I have not gone out of my way to understand the issues with these chemicals on a biological or ecological, scientific basis.

That said, I can concisely summarize Greenpeace's and Apple's positions, as well as the history of the feud.

In September 2006, Greenpeace put up a site called "Green My Apple." It was designed after the Apple Inc. website in terms of layout, but the content was focused on how Apple is sorely lacking in the environmentally-friendliness department. (For example: "I love my Mac, I just wish it came in green," or, "I love my iPod, but can we lose the iWaste?") The immediate result of this campaign was a letter posted on the Apple Website called "A Greener Apple". In the letter, Steve Jobs himself described Apple's current greenliness and outlined the company's plan to do more. Greenpeace considered this a victory, hoping that Apple's actions would spur other tech companies to take similar actions.

Greenpeace is now targeting Apple again, claiming that the iPhone is replete with dangerous chemicals. This accusation has evoked, as did the one before it, a sense of defensiveness from Apple and Apple fans (or as they are derogatively labeled, "fanboys"). Why are they targeting Apple, they say. Other companies are just as bad if not worse, they say. If you want to effect the greatest change in terms of mass of these chemicals removed from the market, look at other companies that sell vastly more devices, they say. Greenpeace is just targeting Apple because Apple's a high-profile target and they want to stir the pot, they say. These questions are understandable, but they lack a perspective on the nature of the process of change.

(Warning: college content ahead!)

In my Environmental Politics class, we learned about the political process; that is, the process by which things get changed. The first step is agenda-setting. When an issue isn't even on the radar, nothing's going to change. That's what Greenpeace is doing now. Apple has some of the most recognized devices on the planet at this point. (Would anyone you know not recognize an iPod if they saw one? It's getting to be that way with the iPhone too; when was the last time news networks covered the launch of any electronic device like they did that of the iPhone?) By targeting a high-profile target (i.e., Apple), Greenpeace does "stir the pot." The cynical way to look at this would be to think that Greenpeace is just doing this to get more members, to get more contributions. The way I look at it is its role in the policy cycle. Greenpeace is raising awareness of the issue. If it feels like Apple is the sacrificial lamb, then so be it -- it's all in the name of ridding our products of these dangerous chemicals. This fits with Greenpeace's response to Apple's letter -- they were excited and hoped for the rest of the tech industry to follow suit.

It's late now; I hope that made sense.

No comments: