How green is your Apple?

2012-01-26 07:00

The toilet uses about 12 litres of water per flush. A 60 watt lightbulb emits about 39g of carbon dioxide per hour of use.

In the 21st century, where just about everything you do contributes to the decline of the planet, some scepticism remains about the greenness of the modern invention.

The Apple brand has become associated with notions of civility and super cool. Further, it seems to give people an indication of your societal standing and seems to point to an above rudimentary IQ. Given the social demand for these products along with the sheer global dominance of the brand, some questions need to be answered regarding the level of environmental security (or not) provided by the Apple product. Surely, one of the largest grossing electronic brands (making a net profit of $6.62 Billion in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year in 2011) should take some environmental responsibility?

According to Apple's own environmental reports, in 2010, the company was responsible for emitting 14.8 million metric tonnes of CO2. This is just below the carbon emissions recorded for Lebanon (a whole country with a population of 4.2 million) in 2009.

The report further notes that 46% of these emissions are accounted for by the manufacturing process with 45% accounted for during product use. The report composed by Apple goes on to praise itself for its ability to reduce the amount of material used to create each forthcoming generation of iThing. An interesting and rather impressive statistic is the iPad 2's lower carbon emissions per hour, during charging, relative to a 60 watt lightbulb.

The November 2011 Greenpeace environmental report which ranks electronic companies according to their ability to produce green products, among others, has a slightly different view of this Apple.

Greenpeace ranked Apple fourth among electronic brands for its environmental credentials. Apple is ranked behind HP, Dell and Nokia which are first, second and third, respectively.

Another report by Chemsec and Clean Production Action praises Apple for its use of non-harmful chemicals in its products.

An environmental organization in China is less impressed, however, accusing Apple of discharging toxins in nearby communities. Of course this is usually the common charge laid against multinationals which indicates full compliance when it comes to environmental and labour norms in the developed world but quietly ignoring them in the developing world.

Not only do large companies like Apple need to adhere to codes indicating environmental sensitivity, consumers need to make clear choices about which products to consume. It seems irrational that Africans have to purchase a product designed in California, which is 9 out of 10 times made in China then shipped and/or flown across the seas just to get here.

Even more mind-boggling is the inability of Africans to take advantage of an opportunity to create our own. This is not a gap in the African market as it is a gaping hole.

This would be an economic, developmental and ecological home run. However, would African support for African products be as enthusiastic as the thousands long waiting list for the iPhone 4S at your local provider? I don't think so. Until then, Apple will gladly fill the void created by the absence of the African entrepreneur accompanied by a hefty ecological price-tag.

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