Apple products are at the center of the storm when it comes to dangerous chemicals and electronic manufacturing. According to a report from Sustainable Brands, last week 80 environmental and human rights organizations including socially responsible investors from 27 different countries sent a letter to Apple’s VP of Environmental Affairs Lisa Jackson, the former head of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), urging her to address worker safety in its supplier factories in China.
Apparently, Apple’s Chinese supplier factories use hazardous chemicals, particularly benzene which can cause cancer and reproductive harm and n-hexane. The group’s letter urged Apple to replace such chemicals, which it estimates would cost less than $1 per device.
Ironically, when Jackson was at the EPA, she was in charge of monitoring benzene levels in the water and air. According to records, Apple’s Chinese workers are exposed to more than three times the amount of hazardous chemicals legally permissible in the U.S.
Apple has been trying to showcase how the brand is moving towards sustainability with the launch of their “Better” campaign. It illustrates that they are using renewable energy to power data centers and is offering free recycling of all Apple products. Apple had also signed the CERES Climate Declaration. But not much has been done yet regarding the chemicals that go into making their products.
In Apple’s latest Supplier Responsibility report, they said it will reveal the names and certification status of all minerals suppliers in an effort to eliminate the use of conflict minerals from its supply chain. And in March, CEO Tim Cook told shareholders that investors who don’t agree with Apple’s sustainability commitments should divest.
Of course the real impact to change is if consumers decide not to buy the products. The youth marketplace is one such demographic that if they knew Apple was using such chemicals, could have a serious impact on their revenues.
As we’ve noted before in our Sustainability and the State of the Future Youth Culture Studies, today’s youth culture is far more aware and conscious of the environment and are moving in the direction of demanding more eco-friendly products.