Green my Apple bears fruit

Feature story - May 31, 2007
This is the story of a very different kind of Greenpeace campaign. The story of a "people power victory." It's the story of the Greening of Apple.

Submission for the Green my Apple campaign by Phil.

We launched our campaign to reduce electronic waste in 2004, with the aim to remove the worst toxic substances from electronic products, improve recycling policies, and to catalyze a fundamental change in the way our electronic gadgets are designed, produced, and recycled.

In 2006, we published a ranking guide to put pressure on individual companies to improve policies and practices.

Companies like Dell and Lenovo responded to the pressure, commiting to phase outs of the worst toxic substances from their product ranges, and in the case of Dell, challenging the entire computer industry to adopt a worldwide free take-back policy, as Dell had done.

In late 2006, it became clear that the company which had been least responsive and falling further and further back in the rankings was, surprisingly, Apple.

Apple fans

In considering how we might win improved policies from Apple, we knew one thing for certain: Apple might tune out Greenpeace, but they would never tune out their customers. Apple's famously loyal fan base was the one force on the planet that was guaranteed to get the attention of Apple CEO Steve Jobs.

So we decided this was to be a very different Greenpeace campaign, one in which we would turn over the reigns to Apple's customers. We would stand in the shoes of Apple fans, we would speak as fellow believers in the wizards of Cupertino, and we'd try to channel waves of Apple Love at corporate headquarters.

The result was the launch of the 'Green my Apple' website in September 2006, the first words of which were, "We love Apple."

The site was designed to look like Apple's own site, with in-jokes that only Apple fans would get, and a single unifying theme:

"We love our Macs. We just wish they came in green."

It was designed, written and promoted as a place where Apple fans interested in a greener Apple could learn about the call for Apple to be a green leader and, crucially, show their support in many different ways.

If you only had a minute you could email Steve (Just "Steve." Apple fansare all on a first name basis with Apple's CEO) and you could recommend the 'Green my Apple' site to social networking services like Digg, Hugg, and del.icio.us with a single click.

If you had more time, you could blog about the campaign, and your blog entry, whether positive or negative, would become part of the content of the site itself due to the magic of Technorati and RSS feeds.

And for those with creative talent there were "ProCreation" challenges for people to create poster and t-shirt designs.

In the begining

 

This is virtuoso activism - with the best usage of online and digital mediaI have ever seen. From a digital communications perspective, I think that Greenpeace have really upped the ante with this one.

Rather than responding to Greenpeace, Apple should respond directly to their users and fans.  The message could be about how they realise this issue is important to their stakeholders, which is why they are reacting.  Apple can then clarify their green strategy and future plans to improvement.
- International Association of Business Communicators Blog, 3 November 2006

At the start of the 'Green my Apple' campaign, we made it clear what we wanted:

We want you to run this campaign. We want you to create the campaign T-shirt, pen the speech in which Steve Jobs announces the Greening of Apple, shoot the Apple Ad that sets Cupertino talking about clean production and take-back schemes.

The Green my Apple website has all the information and the raw materials you need to get you started. If you're creative, create. If you're networked, network. There's plenty to do, and many hands make light work.

In a first for Greenpeace, we gave away some of our images and videos under creative commons licenses for people to remix and mash up and post on the sites 'ProCreations' page. What came back was high quality, amusing and wonderful work.

Bloggers made and shared their own blog buttons quicker than we could respond to a request for them. Some people made online merchandise to promote the campaign before we'd even thought of it.

Take off

In fact from the day of the launch, interest in the site was massive (the resilience of our servers had never been so thoroughly tested!) and soon the ProCreations were flowing in. Apple chose not to comment; perhaps hoping their fans would come to their defence.

But the difference this time was that Apple wasn't being attacked, Apple fans were asking their favourite company to be greener. In fact we were getting so many designs in the first few weeks we had to make the process to put them up much faster.

Not content to remain online we took the green my apple message to MacExpo in London to talk to Mac fans in person.

The majority of people we talked to were supportive of a greener Apple.

Unfortunately the MacExpo organisers and Apple were not so keen on a greener Apple message and closed our stall at the venue.

Online many Mac users were writing and blogging about the campaign from magazine writers to marketing and advertising executives; even Mac media encouraged people to support a greener Apple:

It's a campaign we should all support, as it will only make for an even better Apple.
- Nik Rawlinson, Editor MacUser UK.

If Steve Jobs gets up there and talks about reducing toxic chemicals in their products, people will applaud him for it. Make us proud, Steve.
- Macuser.com

In-store appearances

The green my apple team also visited Apple stores in London, Amsterdam, Austin (Texas), and New York to spread the 'Green my Apple' work and have a bit of fun by sending a message to Steve direct from the Apple store.

Default wallpapers and homepages on showroom computers were subverted with 'Green my Apple' messages. People were making their own videos for the campaign and even creating and selling their own 'Green my Apple' t-shirts online.

But we still needed an easy way for Apple fans to do more to show their support. So in November we launched the hug your Mac action, in which Mac users could download a desktop picture and declare their love of their Mac, and their wish that it came in green.

Soon all sorts of images of green Mac love were being posted on the popular photo-sharing site, Flickr. On the global map a spread of pictures appeared with photos spanning the globe from the Domincan Republic to London, Dubai to New York, Paris to Hong Kong.

The next big Apple event was Macworld in San Francisco. We created an alternative keynote speech (using Quicktime) in which Steve announced the phase out of dangerous chemicals, a worldwide take-back policy, and a green iPod.

Spoof Steve

It was an instant hit on YouTube and by the day of Steve's real keynote speech, the spoof video had been viewed over 100,000 times.

In February we heard the first gossip that Steve was considering a response, and that he might be thinking of sending a little green love back, appropriately enough on Valentine's Day. Despite the fact that more designs and hug pictures were appearing online, Apple continued to publicly deny it planned any changes.

We knew that Apple usually makes policy announcements just before its annual general meeting in May. Our US office organised student campus groups to hold 'Green my Apple' days on campus which resulted in over 1000 green Apple photo messages for Steve.

Students from three continents contacted us about running 'Green my Apple' projects. Meanwhile there were increasing questions about how Apple would respond to two shareholder resolutions calling for Apple to phase out toxic chemicals and improve its recycling policy.

Despite the arguments, let's hope Apple can come to terms with stronger and more effective policies in this delicate day and age of increasing environmental concerns.
- The Unofficial Apple Weblog

Awards

The great work being posted on the website, which had already generated many blog comments, started to get more formal recognition. The sitewas nominated for best non-profit site at the SXSW web awards.

It then won a Webby award as best activist site of the year.

Before we'd finished the champagne, though, that same week we saw something we'd really been waiting for:

A familiar-looking green apple appeared on the Apple website with avery familiar heading "A Greener Apple," linking to an open letter from Steve Jobs declaring a change in policy.

While it was not everything that we had hoped for from Apple, it was good news.

Steve stepped up to be clearer about Apple's environmental policies. He declared a phase out of the worst chemicals in its product range, Brominated Fire Retardants (BFRs) and Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) by 2008. He promised more transparency.

While falling short of announcing a global take back policy, Apple did pledge to increase its recycling rate in the future.

But apart from the details, it was clear that Steve had got the green Apple message loud and clear:

"Apple is already a leader in innovation and engineering, and we are applying these same talents to become an environmental leader."

Given Steve's reputation for secrecy and single mindedness it's a massive achievement to see him echoing what so many people called for - Apple as a green leader.

But that statement is just the first step being a green leader - to help ensure Steve doesn't forget who asked him for a green Apple we've made him a nice reminder (just in case he hasn't had time to check all the ProCreations!) Using Apple software we created and delivered this book of the best of 'Green my Apple' direct to Steve. View the book:

This how we delivered it direct to Steve with the help of Apple of course!

The next challenge

Clearly Steve got the message, so we have archived our 'Green my Apple' website and issued a challenge to all the major computer makers to see who will be the first to match their promises by putting a less toxic computer on the market.

We'll continue to monitor company commitments and actions on our Greener Electronics Guide every 3 months to ensure phase out schedules and actions are kept. But we're also confident that Apple will keep its promise -- because it made that promise not to Greenpeace, but to its customers.

Hopefully Steve will make a start by announcing green features of the iPhone when it is launched soon?

Harnessing the power of customers

This campaign was a lesson in people power. It's not every daythat the CEO of a Fortune 500 company responds to a campaign demand on the front page of his website.

Yet over the past few years,we've found that campaigns which harness the power of customers are becoming increasingly effective in moving corporate policy toward better green policies.

McVictory story Online activism has turned Coca-Cola from a climate-killer to an innovator in refrigeration technologies. McDonald's went from a destroyer of the rainforest to the champion of a moratorium on new soy plantations in the Amazon.

Asnew web tools enable more creative online activism, more socialnetworking, more global campaigns, and more collaboration fromaudiences made up of customers and consumers, the global onlinecommunity is becoming an increasingly powerful force for change.

We'reall a part of the "Second Superpower" of public opinion, and the Greenmy Apple campaign is but one example of how solutions to planetaryproblems can be won. All it takes, sometimes, is people speaking up.


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