Are The New MacBooks Really “The Greenest”?

When the new green MacBook Pro was rolled out earlier this year, Apple touted them as “The World’s Greenest Family of Notebooks.” The latest fruit to appear on the Apple tree is lighter, less toxic and more energy efficient than its peers. But, we wondered, is it really the greenest of them all?

It all started two years ago, when Greenpeace issued a public challenge to Apple and the other major computer manufacturers to produce a laptop that reduces the use of polyvinyl chloride and brominated flame retardants (both of which are carcinogenic components commonly found in electronics). Greenpeace determined Apple to be one of the least responsive companies to their electronic waste concerns. Apple CEO Steve Jobs responded. Did his company make good?

Here’s our list for what to look for when you’re in the market for a “green” computer, and how the MacBook Pro fares.

Toxic Content: Apple hasn’t dropped their use of BFRs and PVC down to zero as they promised, but they have reduced the allowable level of bromine and chlorine to 900 parts per million, or .09 percent of the product’s weight. The battery is lead, cadmium and mercury free, which complies with EU directives. And the MacBook Pro’s display contains no mercury or arsenic, which are still found in other notebooks (including some made by Apple).

Carbon Footprint: The MacBook Pro is lighter and the packaging has been downsized by 41 percent, which enables Apple to transport more units at a time (saving on fuel). Apple claims that transport only accounts for 10 percent of the product’s carbon footprint, leaving production accounting for 50 percent, customer use for 39 percent and less than one percent for recycling, for a total of 460 kg of greenhouse gas emissions per computer. That’s equivalent to 52.2 gallons of gasoline.

Recycling Potential: Apple has a well-run recycling program. (They’ll even let you recycle your old PC in exchange for a Mac purchase.) The MacBook Pro’s body is made from a single piece of aluminum, which is recyclable. The EPA’s Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool rating system declares the new computer is at least 90% recyclable. However, it failed the EPA’s materials selection test for not using any post-consumer recycled content or bio-based plastic.

Energy Efficiency: New MacBooks are EnergyStar 4.0-compliant and Apple asserts that they can run on a quarter of the power needed for a single light bulb. The LED-backlit display uses 30 percent less power than conventional displays. Apple is also boasting a battery life of up to 1,000 charging cycles (complete charge and discharge of the notebook battery). This would be up from the 200 to 300 cycles for existing Apple batteries.

Commitment to Progress: Apple is now issuing environmental status reports for all Apple products, which include an estimate for each product’s carbon footprint.

Apple received a Gold rating from EPA (along with 112 other laptops). So is the MacBook Pro the greenest laptop? We think the solar cell-powered XO, which has a battery that decomposes into fertilizer, will give it a run for its green in every sense of the word. And of course, there’s also that laptop made of bamboo.