Apple's increased transparency about its suppliers is becoming a hallmark of Tim Cook's leadership at the company. Apple has flexed its muscles in the past to push suppliers to remove hazardous substances from products and provide more renewable energy for data centers, and it is proving the same model can work to reduce the use of conflict minerals. Samsung and other consumer electronics companies should follow Apple's example and map its suppliers, so the industry can exert its collective influence to build devices that are better for people and the planet.
Greenpeace's comments lauding Apple are a far cry from its complaints about Apple's practices over the years. The environmental group rated Apple as "bottom of the barrel" in its 2007 green ranking of the technology industry.
Apple has made numerous changes in its supply chain in response to criticisms of its environmental record. In 2007 Apple switched from fluorescent lamps (containing Mercury) to LEDs, in 2008 Apple phased out arsenic, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC). Apple's Environment microsite tracks its environmental footprint, including its commitment to using renewable energy in its data centers.
Also impressive is Apple's new, totally greeen, "spaceship" campus due to open in 2016.
The plan is for the facility to run entirely on renewable energy, drawing largely from on-site fuel cell plants and rooftop photovoltaic arrays. Natural ventilation and radiant cooling mean that the spaceship won’t need air conditioning for some 70 percent of the year.
MacRumors notes that Apple has confirmed that its partners use only ethically sourced tantalum, which is a primary metal used in electronic components that can be also be mined from war-torn regions in Africa. Apple's senior vice president of operations Jeff Williams told The Wall Street Journal:
In the company's 2014 Supplier Responsibility report published on Wednesday, Apple identified that its suppliers use 20 global smelters or refiners whose tantalum has been verified by third-party auditors as what the industry calls "conflict-free." Jeff Williams, Apple's senior vice president of operations, said the company has had success in pressuring tantalum smelters to agree to a third-party audit because Apple and other consumer electronics firms are the biggest users of the metal.
Today's comments by Greenpeace are a ringing endorsement for Apple's record on the environment and a feather in Tim Cook's hat. Apple's 2014 Supplier Responsibility Report microsite is an excellent read and is the new benchmark that all other technology companies should be measured by.
Tip: Peter Cohen