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Once scorned in China, Apple now praised for environmental policies

Apple's aggressive enforcement of environmental policies in China has turned activists — who were once some of its harshest critics — into ardent defenders.

In 2011, Chinese environmental groups took Apple to task over pollution produced by its suppliers building parts for devices like the iPhone. They claimed that Apple was unresponsive to concerns, and was taking advantage of lax environmental protection rules.

But in the last few years, the company has instituted a number of changes, and those have been noticed by its former critics, Adam Lashinsky of Fortune reported on Friday. Most notably, Chinese environmental activist Ma Jun spoke at a panel recently in Chengdu where he "practically gushed about Apple's change in behavior."

Apple initially drew the ire of Ma when his Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs approached 29 major Western companies about environmental cooperation. Apple was the only company of the 29 that did not respond, citing a "long-term policy" against participating with such groups.

Ma's group then wrote a series of reports chastising Apple, which prompted the iPhone maker to meet with his organization and attempt to address concerns over domestic supplier pollution. By early 2012, Apple had agreed to open up supplier factories to third-party environmental inspections from groups like the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs.

After instituting its changes, Apple is now heralded as a leader in environmental activism in China, and has been credited with motivating its supply chain partners to clean up their operations.

The changes have all been instituted since the death of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, which has led to speculation that current Chief Executive Tim Cook "has been supportive of Apple's cooperation with environmental groups in a way that Jobs was not," Lashinsky wrote.

Apple has been a more open company regarding environmental policies and workers' rights in China and elsewhere since Cook took the helm in August of 2011. The CEO even went as far as to personally visit a Foxconn iPhone assembly plant during a trip to China last year.