Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Greenpeace's Gripes All Wet? Maybe...

Some Mac News sites picked up a story from ArsTechnica and the NYT saying that Apple's Laptops are the 'most environmentally friendly', based upon an EPA study.

I took some time to look at the EPA's data and found some interesting facts that don't really support this statement, but call into question Greenpeace's claims. 

The EPAs assessment uses various criteria, Greenpeace focused on toxic materials. Interestingly, EPA ratings gave Mac product very good ratings for environmental toxins, even PVCs. That is contrary to Greenpeace's assertions about PVC. The EPA also gave poor Energy Conservation ratings and Materials Selection (recycled sources) to Apple's products. There is one glaring omission and this invalidates that statement that all Apple's laptops have the best rating. The EPAs ratings for Apple laptops DO NOT INCLUDE MACBOOKS, only the MacBook Pros. So, we can't say because those laptops are not included. And they could contain PVCs, as their cases are plasticized. No makers got a Gold rating, but Apple's laptops were among 144 others that got a Silver rating. And Apple's MacBook Pros are at the top of the Silver heap, with 17 overall points, compared to 16 for a few offerings from Sony and Toshiba. Remember that the MacBooks are not included in this analysis.

Apple's non-notebook products do fairly well, but not strikingly good or bad. Its monitors are in the middle of the pack. Its desktop (MacPro) is 16, below three others with 17 and 18 ratings, above 60 others with lower ratings. Apple has the only integrated products, but if we place them in the desktop category, they have a 14 along with the majority of the desktops rated. So, not awful, but not at the absolute top.

Looking at Greenpeace's site, I just don't much in the way of hard data - just categorical ratings. They rate Apple below HP and Dell, but this seems to be based more on their 'take back' programs, which Apple apparently doesn't have everywhere. The EPA ranks all of HP and Dell's desktops, laptops, and monitors below Apple's, except for iMacs. To be sure, the EPA numbers are themselves just rankings of Apple's ratings in different categories. And it may only be for models sold in the US (who knows what's in machines elsewhere). But Greenpeace puts more weight on stated policies than actual assessments.

To be fair, Greenpeace's assertions also focus much upon iPods, which have quite a bit more plastic in them. The EPA estimates don't include music players. We know iPod sales are huge and by their sheer volume they account for a lot of materials. And though computers must be recycled in some countries (like Japan), without a 'take back' program in the US - Apple looks worse than HP and Dell. Did Greenpeace overstate its claims? Maybe, but without better data we can't completely exonerate Apple. Given that they base more of their rating on the 'take back' than quantified data, I'd have to say Greenpeace over-stated their claim. I'll eat my words from the last post. Sure, Apple should improve their life-cycle management in all countries. But at the same time, without data on MacBooks and iPods, we shouldn't make statements suggesting Apple is at the top of the heap.

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