Wednesday, February 3, 2010

How green is the iPad - Part 3: A greener eReader or an unnecessary luxury item?

In the first two parts (part 1 and part 2) of our "how green is the iPad" we brought you the opinions of other bloggers and writers, as well as a comparison between the green features of the iPad and those of the Kindle and the Nook. Today it's time for the final episode with our analysis.

To simplify it we'll do it as Q&A:

Is the iPad better for the environment than paper books?
Maybe. No one can really tell right now as no life cycle assessment was made to reach a clear conclusion and too many details are still missing about the iPad (from manufacturing to the end of life) to even start guessing the answer.
To all of those who look at the Cleantech Group's report (The Environmental Impact of Amazon's Kindle) as a reference to base an answer to this question, I would like to remind that this report's findings are in no way alternative to a proper life cycle assessment (you're welcome to read our comments on the validity of the report's findings here).

Is there a hope to receive an answer from Apple?

Definitely. In the last couple of years Apple shows a greater commitment to environmental issues - in their latest update of their '
Guide to Greener Electronics', Greenpeace noted that "Apple continues its climb up the ranking from 11th place in v.12 to 9th in v.13 and is now in 5th place, with a score of 5.1 points, up from 4.9." I believe that even if Apple won't make the life cycle assessment (which might be a good thing, as it will be better done by an objective third-party), there's a good chance it will provide the necessary details for such an assessment to be made. In any case, there's a much better chance that Apple will do it than Amazon or B&N, so if there's anyone to look to, it's Apple.

Is the iPad as green as it can get?
It's not that clear. As Greenpeace reported in their guide "Apple does best on the toxic chemicals criteria", so we've got a device free of mercury, PVC, BFRs and Arsenic, but it's still not clear how will Apple is approaching other important issues such as packaging and recycling.

E-waste, for example, is a huge problem and since the battery (which should last up to 10 hours, with over a month of standby capacity) is built-in here, it's even more important to see what Apple will do not only offer a recycling plan for the iPads, but actually encourage customers to recycle their iPads properly.
Some will say of course that a "green" iPad is an oxymoron in the first place, as it is nothing but an unnecessary luxury item.

So what's the importance of the iPad from an environmental point of view?

Firstly, as we showed on the second part of our series, it looks like it's greener than the Kindle and the Nook and there's a good chance it's currently the greenest eReader available.

In the long run, it might also become a greener alternative to physical books, reducing books' footprint and making reading more sustainable. I'm not sure for example if it will be better than books printed on recycled paper - it will be interesting to see who wins in such a green battle.

Last but not least, we shouldn't ignore the fact that for the first time such a device is presented with a specific reference to its green features and its impact on the environment. This is something we didn't see with the launch of the Kindle or the Nook, and even though it's just a presentation, this kind of saying is important and shows the growing importance of this issue for both manufacturers and customers.

What about the criticism that it's just another gadget with environmental impact and no real "green" value?
This is definitely a real concern. How many people do you think will replace their laptops to iPads? not many I guess. There's a good chance the iPads will be purchased as another item that will be used together with the laptop, iPod, cellphone and more electronic devices. Is it sustainable to add more and more devices, where each and every one of them has its own ecological footprint? I don't think so.

Still, we live in a certain society that is based on consumerism and we can't just tell people to stop buying - well, we can, but not too many will listen to this call. Hopefully many more will listen to a call to buy products that are more sustainable than others - buying for example iPad instead of the Kindle if you're looking for an eReader.

Yet, it's still very much the responsibility of the manufacturer, Apple in this case, to make sure that they make not only an excellent product, but one with a minimal footprint, that can have eventually a positive environmental impact (for example, by becoming a greener alternative to physical books).
What do you think? We'll be happy to hear your thoughts so feel free to comment!


Raz @ Eco-Libris

Eco-Libris: Promoting sustainable reading!