Apple iPad – is it green or not?

The web has been a-twitter (excuse the pun) about Apple’s recent unveiling of the iPad. The iPad will certainly boost awareness of e-reader type devices another notch or two, much like the Kindle did before it, given Apple’s brilliant marketing machine and the extra functionality the iPad offers.

For people concerned about the environment, how does the iPad stack up in terms of its green credentials?

Rather than ask “is the iPad green?” it’s more a question of is it more environmentally friendly than X; with X being whatever it is replacing or how it is being used.

The Apple Ipad is a portable tablet-type device that allows you to surf the web, use email, store photos, watch video, listen to music, read books, view maps, schedule and add productivity and entertainment applications from the huge selection offered in the Apple Apps Store.

Apple iPad

According to Apple, the iPad has been designed with the following features to reduce environmental impact:

– Arsenic-free display glass
– Free of Brominated flame retardants
– Mercury-free LCD display
– PVC-free
– Recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure

All good stuff – the mercury-free statement piqued my curiosity as I never realised that LCD screens often incorporate the stuff. Mercury is contained within the fluorescent tubes of many LCD screens, as is the case with CFL bulbs. If you are eager to avoid mercury, this is something to bear in mind when shopping for either a TV or notebook.

Something I really found attractive about the iPad is its power consumption considering the technology used and functionality offered – around 2.5 watts. That’s far less than a desktop computer, notebook or even a netbook. The 25 watt hour lithium polymer battery can also be “down-cycled” after it has reached the end of its serviceable life; i.e. elements of it can be reclaimed for applications other than a battery. 

The iPad’s battery life isn’t as good as the Kindle. The Kindle uses electronic ink for its display, which only uses power when the display is changed, e.g. a page turn. Other than that it’s pretty hard to compare the two as they are very different beasties.

Apple also has a solid recycling program for its other products and I assume the iPad will be covered under that also. Apple usually offers Product Environmental Reports showing the complete environmental footprint of every new Apple product, but at the time of writing the iPad had not yet been added.

The Big Green Question

If you’re considering buying an Apple iPad (or any e-reader/tablet type device) and thinking about the environment, the biggest question to ask yourself is why do you need one?

For example, if you don’t have a computer or considering replacing your computer soon, then it could be a very good option instead of buying a desktop or notebook if you don’t require all the features offered by those two devices. Bear in mind that while the iPad doesn’t include productivity applications such as a word processor or spreadsheet, those sorts of applications are already available as online services. You can also buy a plug-in full size keyboard for the iPad.

If you’re a bookworm reading a novel a two a week, then it might also be a good purchase environmentally speaking as less energy is used to read a book on an e-reader than goes into the production and distribution of its paper-based counterpart. This aspect can be even greener if you’re able to recharge the iPad via solar power or even if you don’t have solar panels, via green power options many electricity utilities are now offering.

But even if you are an avid reader, it depends on how you buy your books. I chew through my fair share, but I only buy titles when they hit the clearance stage, i.e. no more will be printed and the next step for the remaining stock is the recycle bin. There are all sorts of other ways to engage in earth friendly book reading too. Something else that should be taken into account is that the energy and resources gone into making the iPad need to be factored into your book reading if that’s the application you’ll be predominantly using it for.

Before you get caught up in the iPad buzz and race out to buy one, take a good look over its features and consider some of the above points before parting with your cash and perhaps locking up some of Earth’s resources in a device you won’t regularly use.

I would love an Apple iPad, but given its current functionality, my own needs and the fact it can’t really replace anything I’m currently using, I doubt I’ll be buying one anytime soon – I’ll just have to settle on drooling over iPads that others have, so I hope the devices are somewhat splash resistant too ;).

That said, it’s very exciting to see the launch of the iPad and where electronics are heading in terms of using more earth friendly materials and less power while also increasing usefulness. The mind boggles at where we could be in ten years time if consumers continue to demand greener electronics!