Photo by confidentjohn via Flickr CC
The big news of last week (other than Hurricane Irene) was that of Steve Jobs stepping down as CEO of Apple. We spent some time giving due praise to the mastermind of business and design, noting Jobs' role in the significant green steps Apple has taken over the years and the business cues we could take from him within the green movement. Now, it's time to put a little thought into what we'd like to see from the "new" Apple as Tim Cook takes the helm. Apple sparks more passion from consumers than pretty much any other company -- from the avid (sometimes even rabid) loyalty of fanboys to the criticism of environmental watchdog groups. And while Apple has taken a leading role in advancing the green movement in many areas, there are some places where we would still love to see improvement. Whether this is wishful thinking or just setting the bar high, this is what we want:
1. Eliminate Conflict Minerals from the Supply Stream
Apple has had a relatively weak stance on avoiding conflict minerals from their supply chain. Conflict minerals are those mined in areas where the profits go to fuel war, rape, and genocide -- most notably in the Democratic Republic of Congo. When a Wired.com reader asked Steve Jobs about the issue of conflict minerals making their way into consumer electronics manufacturers supply chains, Jobs replied, "Yes. We require all of our suppliers to certify in writing that they use conflict few materials. But honestly there is no way for them to be sure. Until someone invents a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine, it's a very difficult problem.
It is a difficult, but not impossible problem. By requiring transparency in the supply chain and being more direct with suppliers about standards, using recycled materials -- and yes, by inventing a way to chemically trace minerals from the source mine -- Apple can take steps in reducing and even eliminating the use of conflict minerals in their products.
2. Use Recycled Materials, Especially Aluminum and Precious Metals
Another way to avoid conflict minerals, and to reduce the environmental footprint of its products, is for Apple to use recycled materials in their products. Many cell phone manufacturers are starting to take up this call, however it too often amounts to simply using a small percentage of recycled plastic in the outer casing. What we want to see is Apple ramping up the use of recycled materials from copper to gold to plastic to aluminum and more in their products. From the inside out, we want products that take as little from the earth as possible, and keep as much in the consumer stream and out of landfills as possible.
3. Design for Repairability
This is a serious issue with Apple products. While videos for DIY jailbreaking and various home repairs for Apple products abound, we want Apple to make it easy for consumers to repair their own products. The Owner's Manifesto states, "If you can't open it, you don't own it." We want Apple to give consumers full ownership of their devices. Take a page from the Maker's Bill of Rights, Apple -- empower your consumers and in the process reduce the company's environmental footprint drastically. It will make your consumers trust you a whole lot more, and it'll make your products radically more interesting. There's nothing greener than fixing rather than replacing.
4. Make Every Component Upgradable
In line with repairability, we want upgradability. We love products that last, and part of making something last is replacing only the pieces that need updating. Rather than rolling out a new phone every 6-12 months that has just a few things altered, how about rolling out new upgrades as the technology arrives. Yes, this changes some of the sleekness of the products for which Apple is so famous. But it can also go a long way to reducing the flow of electronic waste. We would love to see Apple stretch its genius capabilities and come up with solid products that can be upgraded (if not by users then at least by manufacturing facilities).
5. Eliminate Planned Obsolecense
This issue is at the heart of both repairability and upgradability. Apple designs its products to be outdated faster than you can blink. For example, with the iPad it was obvious that consumers were going to want things like video in the product and it was obvious that Apple could have added something like that into the first iteration, since the iPad 2, completely with video, was rolled out so shortly after the iPad debuted. It is a strategy used by most electronics manufacturers: make it almost good enough, but not quite as good as what we're about to announce, so that consumers keep laying down money.
Apple, we know you have it in you to create products that are as perfect and complete out the door as you can possibly make them -- just do that. And trust us to buy the next product that you create that is honestly, truly, significantly better than the last.
6. Provide Detailed Carbon and Water Footprint Reporting for Each Product
Apple does a fairly decent job providing some environmental footprint information for its products online. However, it could do a whole lot better at being transparent and thorough with its carbon and water footprint reporting. We think Apple can, and should, take a leading role in the consumer electronics industry and help set the bar for providing consumers with data they need and want for making informed purchases. Not only would Apple become a more trustworthy company among consumers and environmental groups, but it would bring about a much needed change in consumer awareness of the total impact of our electronics.
7. Take a Leading Role in Consumer Electronics Recycling
Recycling is a big deal for consumer electronics. We know the numbers, and we know they're not good. While some companies like Dell are vocal about their recycling practices and making it easy for consumers to drop off products for recycling, all companies need to step up and encourage consumers to recycle their old devices. This goes double, or triple, or even quadruple for Apple, which has an unreal share of the market -- for PCs (third place at 10.7%), cell phones (fourth out of top five companies at 5%), and of course tablet devices (some 74%).
Yes, Apple has a loud voice among consumers, and the ears of countless gadget fans. It could do significant good by encouraging recycling of old devices among consumers. And if we're making a wish list, maybe Apple could even come up with a strategy for funneling recycled goods into plants that pump out recycled raw materials for new manufacturing that could become the new norm among electronics consumers.
It's a lot to hope for, but we have a lot of hope.
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