Q Is it really true that Macs aren't all that environmentally friendly?
A I've never had much of an attachment to technology. My crappy 10-year-old stereo doesn't play CDs half the time and I lost my cellphone six years ago and never replaced it. But something about a Mac makes me want to fondle the keyboard and get a white shag rug. Still, the computer for the creative class has sadly lagged on the green front. Apple has been slagged for lobbying against takeback legislation in the States and failing to seriously foster product recycling. The Computer TakeBack Campaign's website has a whole section dedicated to chiding Apple's enviro record (Badapple. biz).
Apple's image rebounded a little this past April when the company announced that it would start a free computer recycling program for North American users. But it's still seen as a bad apple in Greenpeace International's August guide to green electronics.
Why the 2.7 out of 10? Well, the company has yet to cough up a timeline for phasing out nasty plastic PVC and ultra-persistent, neurotoxic brominated flame retardants (BFR), and it has established takeback programs in only a few countries. (Those flame retardants, by the way, were found in dust wiped from 16 computers in museums and libraries across the U.S. in 2004. For the detailed report, go to Clean Production Action's website: www.cleanproduction.org/Steps.BioSociety.Detoxifying.Computer.php).
The company, however, argues it's done plenty to date, including taking back iPods (how 'bout making some that don't break so often?) and eliminating cathode ray tubes in monitors (cutting out .9 kilos of lead per monitor, and using up to 80 per cent less energy in sleep mode). Apple also says its computers are certified Energy Star.
If that's not persuasive enough for you, you probably want to know who's done better on eco rankings? Well, Dell has risen from the ashes after getting a failing grade from the Computer TakeBack Campaign in 02. It stopped using American prison labour, initiated a global computer recycling program and publicly supports producer takeback regulation. Dell is now tied with Nokia for first place on Greenpeace's list (scoring a 7 out of 10), in part because of its targets for phasing out PVC and persistent BFRs by 2009. It only loses points for not having any totally PVC- and BFR-free models on store shelves.
Hewlett-Packard comes in third, having already phased PVC out of its external parts and vowing to remove the last of its flame retardants. It also has a strong recycling program and was the first to work with government to promote the idea of takeback and extended producer responsibility. HP loses points for failing to commit to specific dates for the phase-out of specific toxins. (It only commits to having a plan by 2007, not to phasing them out by then.) Check out Greenpeace's green electronics guide in full at www.greenpeace.org/international.
FYI, if you're choosing between a laptop and a desktop computer, know that laptops run on much less power about 30 watts versus 120 for bulkier desktops. But if you do opt for the desktop type, a flat-screen LCD monitor will reduce your power consumption.
Looking for computer accessories like a keyboard or mouse? You might be interested to know that Microsoft phased out all PVCs in 2005.
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