Greenwashing electronics waste taints the new Retina MacBook Pro

"Green" technology solutions are often no more than greenwashing. Read about the electronics waste associated with Apple's new Retina MacBook Pro.

Greenwashing is everywhere in the IT space. With about 2% of the U.S.'s electricity going to fuel data centers, vendors know there's big money to be had in green technology solutions. What's more, they know CIOs want to be able to tout those same green technology solutions back to their boards and users. We all want our consciences soothed.

Wendy Schuchart
Wendy Schuchart

However, as I walked through the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference show floor in Toronto this week and asked vendors a few questions, it became clear some vendors were definitely greenwashing.

Sure, some vendors have some wind-powered and solar elements, but most of the cloud computing providers who claimed green benefits admitted to using the same dirty coal power our great-grandfathers used. Green technology solutions aren't just about clean energy and savings on electricity bills -- eco-friendly companies should also be actively reducing electronics waste.

Here's an interesting fact: Last month, Apple dropped out of EPEAT -- an electronic product environmental assessment tool, essentially a ranking system for green electronics that the company itself helped to create -- at about the same time it announced its upcoming Retina MacBook Pro. (Editor's Note: Following the publication of this column, on Friday, Apple announced that it was reversing its decision to exit EPEAT.) Seems like weird timing, right? Well, it turns out the new Retina MacBook Pro is what my old IT manager would call "throwaway hardware" -- it's not really repairable.

The Retina MacBook Pro RAM is soldered to the motherboard. You want more RAM? Buy a new computer. That beautiful Retina display is actually fused to the glass, so if you need to replace the LCD, you're going to need a pricey display assembly, generating even more electronics waste.

My favorite part of the new Retina MacBook Pro assembly? The battery is glued to the case. No, seriously, they glued it to the case, so if you need a new battery, you're going to be mailing your entire laptop back to Apple to get a $200 replacement battery.

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Apple loves to talk about how the aluminum and glass cases of the products are all recyclable, which cuts down on electronics waste, but one wonders if that becomes irrelevant when you start gluing those green ideas to non-recyclable materials like batteries. Apple does have its own recycling program, and its electronics recycler ostensibly has the ability to separate the wheat from the chaff, but this move certainly does muddy those formerly green waters.

On the surface, Apple loves to talk about its green technology solutions, and in fact, they are one of the more eco-friendly companies in this space. However, the Retina MacBook Pro is a prime example of greenwashing through omission.

And that's the crux of it: CIOs need to ask questions about their green technology solutions. The CIO of the city of San Francisco did so recently, and vowed to stop purchasing Apple products once the company dropped out of EPEAT. Don't just accept the vendor's green technology solutions at face value. There are real, environmentally friendly actions that CIOs at eco-friendly companies can pursue. But you won't achieve an honest impact on environmentally sustainable technology until you demand transparency from vendors.

CIOs should understand the environmental impact of a product or service from the point of inception throughout the product's lifecycle -- and that means understanding what will happen to the hardware after your company no longer has a use for it.

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