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Energy, emissions and our gadgets

Apple is in full PR-blitz mode today with an announcement about reducing its emissions.

Very timely, as we’re currently taking an online course on Life Cycle Assessment, which is a way to measure the natural resources used over the whole course of the life cycle of a product, from extraction, production, transport, use (including reuse) and disposal. We often think about carbon emissions in terms of impacts, but LCA also includes water footprint, and other environmental impacts.

Many major manufacturers conduct LCAs on their electronics, and Apple has done this for while.

Apple says its green focus will be on reducing emissions in their data centres. At first we were under the impression that this focus on emissions reductions also applied to manufacture. Apple itself states

Our study revealed that emissions associated with manufacturing our aluminum housings were nearly four times higher than we believed, so we’ve updated our life cycle analysis data to be more accurate. As a result, we reported a 9 percent increase in our carbon footprint for 2013. Had we not changed our methodology, our emissions would have dropped 10 percent. We’re committed to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and will continue using our life cycle analysis to drive that change.

But reading on, there is nothing to suggest that Apple is addressing reduction of emissions at manufacture, which according to their own infographic is the OVERWHELMING majority.

In the iPhone 5S, 83% of emissions are made at manufacture.

This is true for almost all consumer electronics, which is precisely why we suggest the most ethical mobile is the one in your hand right now. Use it longer.

Apple finally does speak about durability, and who has not enjoyed the durability of certain Apple products (of days of yore)? But Apple is not demonstrating a game-changing attitude on repairability and longevity. They say their batteries are designed to last longer  – but nothing about the fact that it is difficult for the user to remove and change them. While we could not agree more with Apple here

Sometimes the mark of a great product isn’t how many you sell, but how much it’s used.

Let’s not forget how impossible it is to change batteries in Apple products, or upgrade them. Apple determines quite carefully how long a product is used.

While we are happy that Apple is addressing emissions in the US, and even pushing back against shareholders on this, it is simply not enough. As Kyle from iFixit says, getting serious about emissions, “You’ve got two options… help suppliers improve their facilities and make your things last longer.”

Are we missing something? Or has the steel wool been pulled over our eyes?

4 responses

  1. At least Apple have led the industry in publishing their products’ footprints: http://www.apple.com/environment/reports/
    and are fairly transparent in their methodology: https://www.apple.com/environment/answers/

    But Tim Cook’s claim “to do everything we can to keep our products out of landfills” seems empty, considering Apple’s repeated poor scores for product repairability.
    eg: https://www.ifixit.com/Teardown/MacBook+Air+13-Inch+Mid+2013+Teardown/15042

    I’m happy to join any Restart campaign for better repairability!

  2. janetgunter

    Hi Tom, Thanks for the comment. Our point remains that Apple is not facing up to the truth of its own (as you point out, extensive) footprinting: that the VAST majority of emissions and resources are spent in their products’ production…

  3. Hi Janet, yes, I agree the big problem is buying new Apple products and the environmental harm in their production. But I don’t think their footprints are worse than most other manufacturers’.

    I love Restart’s slogan: “the most ethical phone is the one you’ve got” and:
    * keeping our gadgets maintained, repaired & in use
    * thinking hard if we think we need a new one
    * buying second-hand if we really do
    * choosing low-footprint, maintainability & long-life

  4. janetgunter

    The reason we wrote this post about in the first place Apple was their big PR push, in which they claim to be better than the rest! In fact the name of the campaign is “Better”

    And thanks for endorsing our message 🙂

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