How green is your iPhone?

Like Google, turns out that Apple might have a bit of a China problem.

The white model of the iPhone may not be out yet, but now some Apple watchers are clamoring about another color: green.

A self-described "living environment" advocacy group, Pacific Environment, has started a consumer letter-writing campaign targeted at Apple CEO Steve Jobs encouraging him to address what they see as flaws in the company's supply chain processes in China. Pacific Environment claims that Apple is one of 29 IT companies relying on China for manufacturing that is in violation of Chinese environmental and public health regulations.

Here's an excerpt from the letter that this organization wants you to send to Mr. Jobs:

"I recently learned that the manufacturing of IT products in China has contributed to the serious problem of heavy metal pollution, resulting in widespread water and soil pollution and endangering public health. I am happy to see that Chinese environmental organizations are working to address this grave problem by urging IT companies to clean up their supply chain. I am disappointed to learn that Apple has not responded to questions and concerns raised in letters sent to you in April by China’s Green Choice Alliance regarding companies in your supply chain that have been found by the Chinese government to be in violation of environmental regulations in China. ... I would like Apple to address all the questions and concerns raised by the Green Choice Alliance and commit to reducing pollution within your supply chain. Otherwise, I will not be able to buy your products in good conscience, knowing that you have not done all you can to reduce the horrific pollution that is plaguing communities and damaging the environment in China."

To be sure, there are ongoing issues related to heavy metal discharges and pollution in the part of the world in question. If you look at the report that I've referenced above, which was investigated and issued by the Green Choice Alliance, you'll see that Apple is by no means the only big-time IT brand that is being watched by this organization. But Apple -- and very interestingly, smart planet proponent IBM -- are among the companies that had NOT responded to the Green Choice Alliance's inquiries about their current and future strategies as of the latest report in early June 2010. The companies that come out looking the best are Samsung, Hewlett-Packard, Panasonic, Siemens and Toshiba.

If you look at the perspective of another organization, Greenpeace, Apple is in the middle of road when it comes the companies considered in its recent Guide to Greener Electronics. The company scores a 4.9 out of a possible 10. Two other mobile phone makers, Nokia and Sony Ericsson, score 7.5 and 6.9 respectively. (No other companies score higher.)

In many ways Apple is a victim of its astonishing iPhone 4 sales success on this particular issue, which is (I'm sure) a factor in the timing of this letter-writing campaign. To be fair, the company has absolutely made strides in terms of materials in its products and recycling (it is approaching 50 percent, although little is known about where this stuff is going). Here's its eco-information Web site.

On a separate but related tangent, if you just bought a new iPhone and are wondering how to dispose responsibly of the old one (mine is earmarked for another family member), there are several resources you can consult:


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