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The Green Initiatives of Apple, PC Makers, and Their Users

written by: Nancy Jackson•edited by: Linda Richter•updated: 11/11/2009

The old debate pitting Mac owners against PC owners continues with a new chapter -- which users are greener? As difficult as this measure may seem, one company's study claims that Apple users are greener. But what if we just look at the computers themselves -- who is greener then?

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    Recent Survey of Mac Users

    That's right, a company called Forrester Research says it has shown in a recent survey that Apple customers are "greener" in all aspects of their lives than that dowdy PC crowd. Forrester, in publishing its survey, noted that 12 percent of adults in this country are what they refer to as "bright green," or deeply into protecting the environment. 41 percent of adults fall into a semi-green group, apparently reaching for ultimate greenness but not quite there.

    Breaking this group into Mac users versus PC users, Forrester claims that 17 percent of Mac customers are in the bright green category. HP Compaq ranks second, coming in at 13 percent. But what about the green measure of Apple the company vis-a-vis....well, all those PC makers? How do their companies rate on the green scale? It turns out that we have quite a bit of data on that issue as well.

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    Environmental Risks of Manufacturing Computers

    The environmental hazards contained within computers have long been the target of many groups in the United States, Japan and Europe. It's generally known that computers contain large omounts of harmful chemicals, including lead, cadmium, chromium, mercury and brominated flame retardants. Among the health problems that these toxic heavy metals can inflict upon human beings are permanent brain damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive difficulties and probably various cancers.

    Workers engaged in the manufacturing of computer microchips and hardware are not the only one exposed to this menu of toxic substances. One of the biggest problems with computers is improper teardown and recycling of the components. Recyclers of toxic materials have been routinely shipping hundreds of thousands of old computer components to developing countries for their workers to deal with. These workers are not protected by laws -- as a result, they are consistently exposed to toxic waste as they break computers down into salvageable bits and pieces.

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    Who's Greener? Apple or PC Makers?

    Groups such as the Computer TakeBack Coalition (CTBC) have been keeping careful track of how Apple and PC makers are trying to come to terms with the huge problem of computer waste and disposal. One of their measures of a company's efforts to go green is its participation in the computer takeback program. This program requires the manufacturer to offer free recycling to consumers at the end of the computer's useful life. In effect, the consumer, having decided to purchase that slick, new laptop, can just pack the old computer up and ship it back to the maker, free of any charge. The manufacturer then may refurbish it and donate it or resell it. Alternatively, the computer may be stripped down and its materials used in industry in an ecologically responsible way.

    According to the CTBC, Apple has recently joined the computer takeback movement, requiring that consumers be informed that they can recycle their Macs, free of charge. Apple also provides this service for its rechargeable batteries. Steve Jobs of Apple has been making a lot of statements in the last year about his company doing more to join the ranks of the "bright green." Jobs touts efforts to remove toxic chemicals from its computers, engage in responsible recycling and reduce its carbon footprint.

    The CTBC issued a report very recently to indicate how computer companies in general were measuring up in their efforts to go green. According to that report, completely free computer takeback programs were being offered only by Dell, Lenovo and Toshiba. The report further stated that Apple, HP and Asus (laptops only) were offering programs that were sometimes free, i.e. for some users and for some products. Gateway offered a computer recycling program for which their consumers had to pay.

    Hewlett-Packard (HP) has just announced that it will begin selling special-edition desktop PCs that consume 45 percent less power than its comparable PCs. A watchdog group called Climate Counts, funded by Stonyfield Farm, gave HP a score of 68 out of 100 for its efforts to build green computers. That's 9 points above last year's score.

    So where do we stand on the issue of who's greener, Apple buyers or PC buyers? Apple seems to doing a lot lately, especially in the area of making promises. Of course, there's only one Apple, compared to some two dozen PC makers selling their wares in the U.S. Perhaps it's best to leave this contest as a draw. The CTBC is watching all of the companies to see and report on their efforts to make green computers, and to engage in responsible recycling. States are passing legislation every year, making it harder to avoid green initiatives. If we all, as green consumers, keep our eyes on them, too, we'll all be green computer owners eventually.