Greenwashing: How Eco-Friendly is Apple?

Recently, there was a lot of controversy over Apple’s decision to withdraw from the non-profit organization EPEAT (Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool). Apple then announced that it was putting its eligible products back on the EPEAT list. Further, Apple would like to work with EPEAT to make their requirements even more stringent.
Many of us use Apple products, so I decided to do a little digging and came up with a pros and cons list of Apple’s overall eco-friendliness:
Pros

  • It was one of the first computer companies to phase out the use of toxic chemicals like brominated fire retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) in its production process
  • Apple’s newer products require less material to produce, and therefore generate fewer carbon emissions in the assembly process.
  • Apple works with environmentally conscious materials, like recycled plastics, recycled paper, biopolymers and vegetable-based inks
  • All of Apple’s products are ENERGY STAR (the US Environmental Protection Agency’s guideline for energy efficiency) qualified, something no other tech company can claim
  • Apple encourages recycling – its Reuse and Recycling Program allows customers to get an Apple gift card for the value of their old device. If it doesn’t qualify for Reuse, Apple will recycle is responsibly for free
  • Their Commute Alternatives program encourages its employees to use transit options that reduce traffic, smog and CO2 emissions, saving 30,000,000 kg of CO2 in 2011
  • In 2010 Apple discovered that three supplier companies were improperly disposing of hazardous waste – in response, it required that the companies immediately stop shipping waste and hire certified vendors for future waste disposal
  • Apple displays its eco footprint online for everyone to see

Cons

  • By withdrawing from EPEAT, Apple lost its ability to work with the organization to define and promote environmentally-conscious standards
  • Some of Apple’s latest products are more difficult to disassemble, making it harder to recycle properly. Its newest Retina display Macbook Pro did not meet EPEAT’s criteria for disassembly.
  • Apple was named the “Least Green” tech company by Greenpeace in 2011- Greenpeace said Apple relies heavily on highly polluting coal power at the sites where its servers are, with a dependence around 54.5%
  • Greenpeace also reported that Apple’s investment in a new North Carolina facility triples its electricity consumptions, equivalent to the electricity demand of 80,000 average US homes. In the same report, it estimated that the facility would draw about 100 megawatts of electricity at full capacity.

*Note: Apple recently contested these claims, saying 60% of the power will be eventually delivered on-site from a solar farm and fuel-cell installation, which will each be the largest in the country, making this site the greenest data center ever built. It also stated that the facility draws about 20 megawatts of electricity at full capacity, not 100.
What do you think – is Apple as eco-friendly as it claims?
 
Photo credit: David Sanger

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