Apple’s new products raise environmental concerns

The Macbook Pro with Retina display is one of the products recently criticized by technology buffs.  Photo courtesy Apple
The Macbook Pro with Retina display is one of the products recently criticized by technology buffs. Photo courtesy Apple

Apple’s iPhone 5 revealed on Sept. 14 had some observers counting the days until upgrade bliss and others underwhelmed, but regardless of your phone preferences, the iPhone 5 is the second Apple product released this year that has raised questions about the company’s green credentials.

Apple CEO Tim Cook focused largely on the iPhone 5’s thinner and lighter design in his keynote speech, but Apple’s own reports, found on their website, show a substantial increase in carbon dioxide emissions over the iPhone 4S — increasing from 55 kg for the 4S to 75 kg for the 5 over the lifespan of the devices.

Apple has often trumpeted its green products and production methods, and the iPhone 5 is constructed with many environmentally friendly materials. The popular cell phone is manufactured with an arsenic- and mercury-free display for easy recycling, and its packaging is designed to promote efficient shipping. However, the iPhone 5’s upgraded charging port is causing the most concern.

The new model uses a port called “Lightning,” replacing the ubiquitous 30-pin design used with all previous iOS devices. Not only does the new port relegate millions of accessories useless, it also marks a separation from Apple’s commitment to standardize proprietary connectors in the industry.

In 2009, Apple agreed, along with other major cellphone manufacturers including Nokia and Samsung, to use micro-USB in all future devices sold in the European Union. 2011 was the deadline for implementation, yet the iPhone 5 requires a €9.00 adaptor to comply with the micro-USB standard. Apple also offers a $29 Lighting to 30-pin adapter for connecting to some 30-pin accessories.

One can see that electronic waste from new adaptors, old connectors, and discarded accessories will quickly add up.

This isn’t the first time Apple has taken flak from the environmentally conscious. Earlier this year, Apple’s Macbook Pro with Retina display was lambasted by iFixit, a website designed to help consumers disassemble and repair consumer electronics, for being nearly impossible to disassemble, repair or recycle.

“Originally … we could not separate the battery from the upper case. The next day, after a lot of elbow grease, we were finally able to get them apart — but in the process punctured the battery, leaking hazardous goo all over,” said iFixit contributor, Kyle Wiens in a blog post on July 6.

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT), who set standards for green consumer electronics, did not offer the Macbook Pro with Retina display its highest “gold” rating — the first time an Apple product has not received “gold.”

Apple, along with other major electronics manufacturers like Dell and Hewlett-Packard, helped establish EPEAT, which is used by educational institutions and government agencies to determine environmentally friendly purchases.

After the Macbook Pro with Retina display failed to receive EPEAT’s highest accolade, Apple removed their products from the registry, meaning that no consumer can see the environmental impact of Apple’s products except through Apple’s own reports. This action caused many to question Apple’s future commitment to environmentally safe products.

Online technology website, The Verge, reported that, “Apple has been moving steadily towards compact products with less accessibility.” Furthermore, Robert Frisbee, the CEO of EPEAT, informed the CIO Journal that Apple’s reason was their “design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements.”

A week later, on July 13, Apple apologized and returned all of their products, including the Macbook Pro with Retina display (which eventually received the “gold” rating), to EPEAT’s registry.

Bob Mansfield, senior vice president of hardware engineering at Apple, posted a letter on Apple’s website clarifying the decision. Mansfield said that removing their products from EPEAT’s registry “was a mistake,” and that, “our commitment to protecting the environment has never changed.”

The letter attempts to blame EPEAT’s lack of evolving standards. “Much of our progress has come in areas not yet measured by EPEAT,” said Mansfield.

EPEAT does not yet review smartphones so consumers cannot know precisely how green the iPhone 5 really is, but observers can be encouraged by Mansfield’s renewed commitment to EPEAT in his letter.

“We look forward to working with EPEAT,” said Mansfield, adding that Apple is “dedicated to designing products that everyone can be proud to own and use.”

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