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Just who is Stephen Russell?

A while ago, a small controversy over Apple’s environmental record took over the Mac blogs for a bit, after a Greenpeace report highlighted the use of toxic chemicals in the company’s products. I’m not a supporter of Greenpeace: I tend to be on the opposite end of the spectrum of opinion to it in many ways, for example by being pro-GM. Hence, I largely ignored it.

But there was something interesting that came out of the furore surrounding the Greenpeace campaign. In a response to Greenpeace, Daniel Eran at Roughly Drafted quoted “Stephen Russell, a materials consultant to the IT sector,” as refuting many of Greenpeace’s claims. Eran is so impressed with Russell’s claims, in fact, that he cited him again in a follow-up piece, claiming that “Apple has had for many years, by far the strictest eco-material specification in the industry, bar none”.

Certainly, Russell sounds like he knows his stuff. In a comment over on Greenpeace’s site, he goes into some detail about the quantities of chemicals used by Apple and other manufacturers. And he crops up again, defending Apple’s record on News.com.

Best of all, he crops up on Technology Evangelist, where he claims:

“I’ve just returned from the province in China where Greenpeace took those photos. I even managed to track down that little girl what was used to pose for the camera whilst Greenpeace took pictures of her holding the Apple Mac keyboard. Here’s what I found; there was indeed tons of electronic scrap, that appeared to be mainly printed circuit boards from TV’s and computers as well as printer toner cartridges and peripherals from computers. But guess what, none of them were from Apple equipment. Showing the girl a photo of herself holding the Apple keyboards, I asked her how she found the Apple Mac keyboards. She said that the westerners with cameras brought them and gave them to her. They said they pay her if she agreed to hold them whilst they took pictures.”

Now that sounds authoritative, doesn’t it? There’s only one problem: for an expert in his field, “Stephen Russell” seems to have left very few footprints. Googling for “Stephen Russell materials science” comes up with nothing that looks like Eran’s description of Russell as “a materials consultant to the IT sector”. Searching for “Stephen Russell materials consultant” brings up only Eran’s postings as relevant. For someone in the IT sector, especially a consultant, having a Google footprint of zero would be very unusual.

There’s one further twist. In a response to Russell’s comment on the Greenpeace site, someone noted this:

“Let me tell you about a funny thing a colleague pointed out to me this morning using the magic of the internet: You (Stephen or ”stephruss1973“) appear to be working for Apple.”

So, it appears, “Stephen Russell” was posting from an Apple IP address. Now it may simply be that Russell posted from a public Mac in an Apple Store, although this hardly tallies with the description of him in Eran’s posts. But coupled with Russell’s complete lack of traceability online, it certainly leaves the feeling that something is amiss. Was someone within Apple conducting a little bit of astroturfing on the side? And, if he’s out there, will the real Stephen Russell please stand up?

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