Does Apple Really Have the Greenest Notebooks?

What does green mean to me?

Artwork: Chip Taylor
The EPEAT system has other flaws that could mislead consumers into thinking certain machines are greener -- or less green -- than they really are. First, the ratings criteria don't take into account all conceivable green features, such as built-in power management features, the absence of energy-drawing fans, or an overall reduction in materials used.

Second, by meeting criteria of questionable green value, products can earn enough points to achieve Gold status. One example I've cited in the past: Machines can earn additional points if they're compatible with an alternative energy charger -- even if the only charger available happens to be a $329 solar powered charger that weighs 22 pounds.

I should stress, at this point, that my intent is not to outright disparage and dismiss EPEAT; rather, I think it's an invaluable tool, overall, in helping to select a green computer or monitor for any organization. It's no surprise to me, in fact, that some companies and governmental bodies will purchase only systems that are EPEAT rated.

The important thing to remember, though, is that if you truly care about purchasing computers and monitors that meet particular green criteria, you should consider using the advanced search option on EPEAT. This will allow you to limit search results to only machines that meet your particular requirements. (Unfortunately, EPEAT doesn't let you search the registry based on system specs, just environmental criteria and, to a degree, monitor size.)

As a little experiment to demonstrate the value of EPEAT, I decided to browse the system for notebooks that met 18 specific criteria that I would deem important were I choosing systems for my business. Specifically, I wanted to see only systems that contained no intentionally added mercury (in light sources); cadmium; lead (in certain applications); nor hexavalent chromium. I also wanted the large plastic parts to be free of certain flame retardents and PVC. The notebook battery had to be free of lead, cadmium, and mercury.

Additionally, I wanted only machines built for easy disassembly and reuse. In EPEAT terms, that means computers that contain a reduced number of plastic material types. I wanted the plastic parts to be marked and easy to separate by type. I also wanted systems containing no molded- or glued-in metal -- or else metal that was easy to remove. Finally, I wanted the machine's parts to be, at a minimum, 90 percent reusable or recyclable.

In terms of product longevity, I wanted the notebooks that came up in my search to have a modular design, meaning that if I needed to replace or upgrade a part, I could do so easily on-site. Additionally, I opted for the requirement that the notebook vendor make available replacement parts (thus ensuring I could replace a damaged component easily).

Furthermore, I only wanted machines from vendors that audited their recycling vendors. My reasoning: When I send a machine back to a vendor for recycling, I want to be confident it will be disposed of properly and securely (both for the sake of the environment and my personal data).

Finally, for the sake of the planet, I wanted only machines that come in packaging that's at least 90 percent recyclable and made from a minimum of postconsumer materials. Additionally, I only wanted a machine that came from a vendor offering a packaging take-back program. That would save my employees the trouble of cleaning up a mess of packaging on the loading dock while (presumably) ensuring the materials end up recycled or reused.

I also restricted the search to machines with a screen size between 15 and 22 inches.

This search yielded 12 results in all, all of which were Gold-rated machines. Of that 12, six were from Apple, three were from Sony, and three were from ASUSTeK. Notably, a lot of vendors fail to include screen size data when they register their products, so it's entirely likely a heap of machines weren't included in my final results.

All in all, the lesson here is that EPEAT can be an invaluable tool for a company looking to equip its employees with eco-friendly hardware. Just be wary of any vendor who claims that they're the "greenest" because they have the most products in the registry, or the highest number of Gold-rated products, or the like. It doesn't matter so much what green means to them as what green means to you.

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