As noted in this article, buyers need to consider energy usage and the production life cycle when trying to rate computer sustainability and the green factors of their computers. There are two good ways to find useful computer sustainability information.
The best is independent analysis. A company's own information is typically less reliable but perhaps more thorough than most independent reports. Here is a summary of both types of sustainability reporting for Apple Computers, including analyses from Greenpeace, the Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire and directly from Apple.
Greenpeace releases an annual Greener Electronics Guide. A 2009 update put Apple in 11th place out of 17 rated companies.
Greenpeace gives kudos to Apple for creating a greener Macbook, but said the company had otherwise not changed its weak sustainability practices.
It also noted Apple's new line of iPods would be free of BFRs, PVC and mercury. However, the announcement came after "press time" and Greenpeace will wait to determine if Apple would be true to its word.
Greenpeace also takes shots at Apple for the built-in obsolescence of the iPod because of high costs of battery replacement. However, that may be unfairly singling out Apple. Most cell phones and other small electronic gadgets also have built-in obsolescence.
Greenpeace also gives kudos to Dell for a free, global recycling scheme, admonishing Apple for a failure to match the offer. It also hopes to see the phase-out of toxic chemicals in all Apple products.
Nokia topped the list. Greenpeace honored the Finnish company for being an industry leader in phasing out toxic materials. To be fair, cell phones are smaller and easier to rid of toxic materials than full-size computers, which have more components.
Also, Sony Ericsson ranked high for improving sustainability reporting. However, astute consumers know greenwashing is prevalent, and sustainability reporting doesn't always translate to sustainability action.
The Corporate Social Responsibility Newswire echoes many Greenpeace critiques and adds some critiques of the aforementioned sustainability reporting levels from Apple.
"Of the big four IT companies, Apple has disclosed the least," said Brian Thurston in a computer company comparison on the CSR site.
Apple has also not officially committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Apple is working hard to counter the critiques of its sustainability practices. The company has an extensive environment section on its Web site, and has an extensive ad campaign hyping the new line of "green" laptops.
The hype seems to be working. CSR cites a survey where consumers ranked Apple as the most environmentally friendly consumer technology brand.
Among Apple's self-reported sustainability measures are:
• An estimate of the greenhouse gas emissions generated by each new product sold. The estimate includes life-cycle factors beginning with the mining of raw materials for metal computer and gadget components.
• Laptops with recyclable aluminum and glass enclosures, mercury-free displays and arsenic-free display glass. Printed circuit boards, electrical components, mechanical parts, and internal cables are BFR-free and PVC-free.
• Laptops designed to be energy efficient. For example, a 13-inch MacBook consumes only 14W in idle with the display on, less than a quarter of the consumption of a typical household 60W lightbulb, and far exceeds ENERGY STAR requirements.
• Between the first-generation and current-generation iMac, sleep-mode energy usage has decreased 93 percent, thanks to improvements in CPU power management and increased hardware efficiency