The problem with the Greenpeace report was that it made no attempt to find out about the actual presence of hazardous substances in different companies' products. Instead, it merely ranked companies "on information that is publicly available."
So if company A had eliminated certain hazardous chemicals completely and planned to remove the others in a year or two but hadn't made a song and dance about that, it would have been ranked behind company Z which still churned out products loaded with undesirable compounds but had announced a reasonable timeline for their elimination. And that, it seems to me, was the situation Apple was in.
When Greenpeace welcomed Jobs' statement that "Today we're changing our policy", it failed to make it clear that what he actually announced was a change in policy regarding talking about Apple's efforts in reducing and eliminating hazardous substances and increasing recycling, not a change in its policy about those substances or practices.
Here's the first paragraph of Jobs' statement in its entirety:
"Apple has been criticized by some environmental organizations for not being a leader in removing toxic chemicals from its new products, and for not aggressively or properly recycling its old products. Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas. Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well."
Greenpeace fails to acknowledge Apple's leadership in eliminating CRTs (and therefore lead) from its product lineup; or that it was in advance of the European Reduction of Hazardous Substances regulations regarding cadmium, hexavalent chromium and decabromodiphenyl ether.
And Greenpeace is giving itself too much credit when it says "We look forward to working with the new, greener Apple in future – toward the greening of the entire electronics industry. And to all the Apple fans who have contributed their thoughts and blogs and creativity to this campaign, reach over your shoulder and pat yourself on the back." If its campaign against Apple has had any effect, it's merely on the surface and in terms of PR, not reality. Is Apple doing anything different? Not as far as I can see. What's more important: walking the walk, talking the walk, or talking the talk? My money is on the former, whereas Greenpeace's seems to be more concerned with the latter two.
But there is one point that Greenpeace was right to bring to our attention. When it came to recycling, Jobs' statement was very wooly about arrangements outside the US, both in terms of the availability (or planned availability) of 'take back' arrangements and the responsible management of the recycling process.
When Jobs said Apple is expanding iPod take-backs to Apple retail stores worldwide, that's not much help if there isn't an Apple Store in your country or city. If Apple can provide free shipping for iPod take-backs anywhere in the US, why can't it do the same in every country it operates in? And for nations where Apple doesn't have a direct presence, surely it can require its distributors to do the same.
If recycling iPods is important, surely more could be done about recycling Macs. Apple currently sells around seven iPods for every Mac, but a full-size iPod weighs 136g compared with 2.36kg for a 13in MacBook. That means there's about two and a half times more materials going into Macs than iPods. The exact proportion will depend on the sales mix, but I've chosen the heaviest iPod and the lightest self-contained Mac.
So to Greenpeace, don't claim credit where it isn't due; and to Apple, don't rest on your laurels.