Billed as the greenest-of-the-green-tech gadgets, enter the iPad – a blockbuster with staying power, enjoying colossal success beyond its celebrated opening weekend. (Wondering as I write, how long it’ll be before my spell-check passes over “iPad,” as it now does “iPod.”) For the eco-geek, this is great news: An A-level toy in sustainable form. A maker makes good on its promise to be a leader in corporate environmental solid citizenship.
Indeed, there are a lot of reasons for you to feel good about buying the iPad. The much-talked-up tablet features a way-long battery life, an arsenic-free display glass, is free of brominated flame retardants, has no mercury in its LCD display, lacks any PVC and is fitted with a recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure. All this is an articulation of an admirable commitment by Apple that goes far beyond design. Behind the scenes, the company’s approach to its facilities, production, water use, transportation and recycling is as state-of-the-green-art as is its technology.
But not everyone out there is drinking the apple juice. Not at all at ease with yet another massive production demand for an insanely desired electronic device, more than a few watchdogs are looking behind Apple’s green curtain. These folks are drawing attention to yet more precious metals mining, increased supply chain requirements and the device’s energy use over its lifetime. “End-of-life management,” too, is of a great concern for both the iPad itself and the devices that it will no doubt (in many cases needlessly) replace. Just hours, in fact, after Apple CEO Steve Jobs announced the iPad back in January, Greenbiz’s Managing Editor Matthew Wheeland referred to this latest gotta-have as “still another resource-intensive gadget.”
Moreover, the iPad is cloud computing-based, relying on the ever-growing methodology to access videos and music and other forms of data streaming. The rapid growth of this approach requires the construction of places to store vast amounts of data, immense facilities that gobble up tremendous amounts of electricity.
Greenpeace Press Officer Daniel Kessler, writing in The Huffington Post, recently opined: “If we hope to phase out dirty sources of energy to address climate change, then – given the massive amounts of electricity needed in order to run computers, provide backup power and coordinate related cooling equipment that even energy-efficient data centers consume – the last thing we need is for more cloud infrastructure to be built in places where it increases demand for dirty coal-fired power.”
You might say there are bigger enviro-challenges to address than these. Greenpeace and the other hardcore greenies would do better to focus on some of the real uglies out there, including those who portray their products and manufacturing processes as environmentally friendly when they’re truly anything but. But the “radicals” on this issue, as is often the case, have a purpose and an important point to make.
The advent of the iPad begs some real questions to those of us who love new(er) and clever(er) gadgetry, green or otherwise – questions that perhaps we didn’t ask ourselves when we joined the compact disc, cell phone and laptop revolutions. We’re an insatiable culture with an insatiable appetite for progress, particularly high-tech progress, and if we can call it green, well that’s just great. But it’s good – critical, in fact – to keep in mind that (even green) tech progress comes with a price. More stuff means just that – more stuff. And that requires mining, manufacturing, transportation and power. It also means your old stuff has got to go – somewhere. (It’s interesting to note, says Wheeland, that those in the recycling biz adore the iPad almost as much as they adore flat-screened televisions.)
So ask yourself before buying in: Do you need a new device - or do you want a new device? This is not always a simple question, and can require a hard look at a fine line between what truly inspires you and what’s simply a new toy, between charging your creative engine and consumption for its own sake. We’re presented with new options to make our lives easier and more enjoyable every day. Discerning which of these roads to follow – read: purchases to make – is a big issue when considering how well we want to play with our community and our planet.
Image: Robert Scoble