Analysis: Green data now front and center for Apple products

In recent years, Apple has taken flak from some advocacy groups to even a few of its own shareholders about its environmental policies. Lately, though, Apple seems to be taking charge of the issue. The environmental impact of Apple’s products now occupies a central part of the company’s marketing and P.R. efforts.

Look no further than Tuesday’s hardware announcements to see the prominent role environmental issues now play in Apple’s message to consumers. With all three desktop updates—the Mac Pro, Mac mini, and iMac—Apple touted their environmental friendliness alongside their processor speeds, hard drive capacities, and other technical improvements.

“We’re committed to designing and building the most environmentally friendly computers in the PC industry,” David Moody, Apple’s vice president of Mac hardware worldwide product marketing, told Macworld. “We don’t know of anyone that has so much of their product line rated EPEAT Gold.” (EPEAT, or Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool—is a system aimed at helping both public and private sector computer buyers evaluate products based on their environmental aspects. EPEAT evaluates products on three tiers—bronze, silver, and gold.)

All three desktop models unveiled Tuesday exceed current Energy Star 4.0 requirements, adopting the Energy Star 5.0 requirements that go into effect later this year. Their enclosures are all made out recycled aluminum, while their internal components are free of PVC and brominated flame retardants. In the case of the new Mac mini, the updated desktop uses less than 13 watts of power—10 times less than a typical desktop PC, according to Apple, which is touting the mini as the most energy-efficient desktop in the world.

The environmental efforts aren’t restricted to products unveiled this week. Each of Apple’s Mac products pages now include an Environment link next to the link for tech specs, with details on the green attributes of the company’s products.

Apple currently has an Environmental Performance Web page with separate PDFs detailing its efforts for the MacBook Air, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, iMac, Mac Pro, Cinema Display, iPhone, and iPod. All the reports have been updated to include the products released Tuesday.

It’s part of an ongoing effort at Apple to bring more attention to its efforts to remove toxins from its products. The company recently updated its Environment Web page with information on the process it used to calculate the “carbon footprint” (greenhouse gas emissions caused by a product) for its products’ life cycles.

Apple’s says its methodology used to make the calculations has been reviewed and verified by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany, a leader in life-cycle analysis.

As an example, Apple says its MacBook results in 460 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions over four years of use. That’s about the same amount a car emits in one month, the Environmental Protection Agency says.

Apple’s life-cycle analysis takes into account every phase of a product’s life, including the mining of the raw materials; manufacturing of the product; packaging; missions related to transporting it to market;, the power consumption during the product’s use; and the energy required for eventual recycling.

Apple said it also factors in the environmental impact of the offices and other business operations, which account for about 5 percent of total emissions.

While it would be interesting to compare Apple’s carbon footprint with other computer manufacturers, none of the other companies publish their carbon footprint information. This is something environmental group Greenpeace hopes will change.

“This will be a first for a computer maker and lays down the challenge to competitors such as HP, Dell, Lenovo, Acer, and Toshiba,” Greenpeace said in a statement when Apple first released its data. “If Apple has solved the challenges involved, there’s no excuse for any of these companies not to follow Apple’s lead on toxic chemicals elimination now and not wait until the end of 2009.”

Greenpeace is not the only group to notice Apple’s progress. Worldwide environmental organization The Climate Group recently recognized Apple’s commitment to lowering its carbon footprint in its report “The Business Guide to the Low Carbon Economy: California.”

The company’s commitment to the environment has not gone unnoticed. In mid-February Shenandoah University chose Apple products because of that commitment.

“It was a key factor in choosing the MacBook,” said Bryon Grigsby, Shenandoah’s senior vice president and vice president for academic affairs. “The university’s strategic commitment to the environment and sustainability partners very well with the MacBook’s pro-environment elements.”

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