Since MacWorld in early January, Apple Computer has plastered San Francisco with ads touting their latest family of notebook computers as "The greenest family of notebooks", replete with photos of the thin and sexy machines awash in lush greenery. But are they really? By how much? And how would we know?
Apple has indeed made some bold moves towards improving the environmental performance of their products with this line of notebook computers:
They have virtually eliminated bromines and chlorines from these products (from flame retardants and other applications) and, presumably, replace them with substances that are significantly less hazardous. This means there should be no PVC cables, and that semiconductors, tantalum capacitors, and printed circuit boards use a non-bromine-based flame retardant when needed.
Apple also has replaced fluorescent backlighting, dependent on small amounts of mercury to function, with LED backlighting, which is dependent on arsenic to function but uses less energy.
They have incorporated new, longer-lived lithium battery technology that has a higher energy density and can be recharged up to 1000 times, vs. 250 to 500 times for most other notebook computer lithium ion-based batteries.
They are using arsenic-free glass for the LCD panel, but then so are many others.
The notebook enclosures are made from readily-recyclable aluminum, vs. the recyclable plastic normally used for this application.
The notebooks meet Energy Star requirements and will be rated EPEAT Gold.
While impressive and deserving of kudos, there's a cost for all of this "greenness" in terms of research and development funding " admittedly a strategic investment by Apple and their suppliers - and the price of the product, which runs at least 50% higher than a comparable (in terms of technical performance) product from a competitor (albeit running Microsoft Windows).
While the enclosure may be more durable and perhaps with certain major components that are more readily recyclable, one must ask: just how much more "green" is it than any one of Apple's competitors' products? How far ahead of the pack are they? Unfortunately these are impossible questions to answer. Why? At one level, it's because we don't have standards defining metrics that are granular enough to more accurately measure environmental performance of our products. Consider EPEAT's three levels of Bronze, Silver, and Gold. In fact, "Gold" is hardly exclusive anymore. 18 months ago there were no Gold products and few Silver; now a quarter of them are Gold and the rest Silver; there are few Bronze. EPEAT could use a couple more levels, like "Platinum" and "Titanium", right about now.