Apple’s Green Legacy

(Courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

Blog post by Gustavo Grad
November 15, 2011

Steve Jobs left a legacy that began with the launch of the Apple Lisa in 1983 and the Macintosh a year later. The Mac marked the development of the personal computer. In the last 10 years, Apple (guided by Steve Jobs) has produced some of the most iconic designs, such as the iPod, the iPhone, the iPac, and the MacBook Air. It is easy to see how much the world has been changing lately under our noses in ways that have never been experienced before.

In light of the enormity of these changes and their impact on our lives, it might be a good idea to check the company’s green legacy.

“That computer your child is using—did you know that it contains more than a thousand different kinds of materials, including toxic gases, toxic metals (such as cadmium, lead, and mercury), acids, plastics, chlorinated and brominate substances and another additives? The dust from some printer toner cartridges has been found to contain nickel, cobalt ,and mercury—substances harmful to humans that your child may be inhaling as you read,” wrote William McDonough in his book Cradle to Cradle and continues, saying that “obviously some of those thousand materials are essential to the computer itself.”

The question is what about Macs? Are the products any different? I appreciate the clean design and the ability that these devices brought to our lives to connect with others and stay in touch, but the question is whether they are any different, any greener.

Steve Jobs himself answered this question in 2007 in a six-page statement called “A greener Apple,” where he said that “upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress …, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of most of its competitors in these areas.” Jobs concluded that whatever other improvements are needed, Apple had failed to communicate the things that were done well. He wanted Apple to be greener and acknowledged stakeholders’ right to expect more from Apple.

Here are some actions that Apple has taken to remove toxic chemicals noted in Steve Jobs’s statement:

(Courtesy of Apple, Inc.)

Lead: A toxic substance typically shipped by the pound contained in the cathode-ray tube (CRT) displays. In mid-2006, the computer conglomerate became the first company in the computer industry to completely eliminate CRTs. While a typical CRT used to contained approximately three pounds of lead, the first CRT-based iMac contained only 484 grams, and the third-generation LCD-based iMac contains less than one gram of lead.

Cadmium, Hexavalent Chromium, Decabromodiphenyl, and Ether: In 2006, the company declared that all of its “products met both the spirit and letter of the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS), restrictions on cadmium, hexavalent chromium and brominated flame retardants years before RoHS went into effect.” The RoHS is a directive from the European Union aimed to restrict certain dangerous substances commonly used in electronics and electronic equipment.

Arsenic and Mercury: Both are industry-standard materials used in liquid crystal displays (LCDs). In 2007, the computer company introduced the first displays using arsenic-free glass, and one year later the company began the transition from fluorescent lamps to light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to illuminate the displays.

Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Brominated Flame Retardants (BFR): PVCs begin to be phased out in 1995 and began restricting BFRs in 2001. For example, more than 3 million iPods already have been shipped with a BFR-free laminate on their logic boards.

Recycling: The company started recycling in 1994, and in 2007 it operated recycling programs in countries where more than 82 percent of all Macs and iPods were sold, with a scheduled increase to 93 percent. The computer company recycled 13 million pounds of e-waste in 2006, which was equal to 9.5 percent of the weight of all its products sold in the previous seven years.

In the closing statement, Steve Jobs said that “Apple is already a leader in innovation and engineering, and we are applying these same talents to become an environmental leader.” A step in the right direction will be for Apple to design its products from the very beginning for effective, optimal recycling as technical nutrients on a “cradle to cradle” cycle, using William McDonough words: a “system of material flow and metabolism in which the very concept of waste doesn’t exist.”

For related article, see:
How Apple’s Product Design Reduces Carbon Footprint 

© 2011 SCGH, LLC.

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