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Apple risks green makeover with CSR snub

As company unveils latest "green" laptop, it's board recommends shareholders vote down resolution calling for greater CSR reporting

Apple's launch of new green products at this week's Macworld show has been overshadowed by the company's attempts to quash shareholder requests for more corporate social responsibility (CSR) reporting.

The company issued a proxy filing on Wednesday in which it urged shareholders to vote against a shareholder resolution proposed by As You Sow, an environmental group co-sponsored by the New York City Office of the Comptroller and the Green Century Equity Fund.

The resolution would require the company to publish a CSR report detailing its approach to greenhouse gas emissions, toxics and recycling by July this year. The report would also require Apple to define "sustainability", and would include a company-wide review of policies contributing to sustainable operations.

As You Sow claimed in the resolution that there were strong commercial reasons for Apple to produce such a report, arguing that over 2,700 companies now produce formal CSR reports, including many direct competitors such as Dell, IBM and HP. "Apple lags behind its global industry peers on sustainability reporting, especially regarding key environmental issues such as climate change, " the resolution said.

However, Apple's board of directors, which includes Nobel Prize-winning climate change campaigner Al Gore, recommended shareholders vote against the resolution. "The board believes that the proposal has been substantially addressed and publication of an additional report would produce little added value while requiring unnecessary time and expense," Apple said in its proxy filing.

The company maintains reports and statements on its environmental activity on its website, including a page on supplier responsibility, serve much the same purpose as a formal CSR report.

However, this is not the first time that Apple has found itself under fire over environmental reporting.

As You Sow has pressured the Californian computer vendor in the past and in May 2007, the company published take-back and recycling goals for old computers, a week before a shareholder resolution issued by the environmental group came to a vote.

Similarly, Apple faced months of criticism from Greenpeace over its failure to publish information on its policies regarding the use of toxic chemicals in its products, which culminated in an apology from Apple boss Steve Jobs and the release of a raft of new targets designed to phase out the use of hazardous chemicals.

The proxy filing came as Apple this week launched its new 17in MacBook Pro laptop, the latest model in what it claims is "the world's greenest family of notebooks".

The new laptop is made of highly recyclable aluminium and is both mercury and arsenic free.

It is also the company's first laptop to include an integrated, non-removable lithium polymer battery. The firm claims that it will give the average user 1,000 recharge cycles before it needs replacing, which it says is three times as many cycles as conventional batteries.

The decision to integrate the new battery technology into the laptop may attract some criticism from green groups, which have previously criticised the absence of a non-removable battery in the Apple iPhone.

However, Apple said that there is a take-back and recycling scheme for the battery, which must be replaced by a technician rather than by a non-technical user. "The average user is probably going to replace the laptop rather than buying another battery," said an Apple sales representative at the show. The company believes that the average user will be able to use the battery for five years before it needs replacing.

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