My goodness, it has been a long time since the last Daily Footprint post – November! Who can even remember November in this dizzyingly accelerating society? And where were we on this epic voyage through a typical day? Last we’d heard, our protagonist with no name (Suggestions welcome! Leopold Prufrock? Kathryn Earhart?) whiled away the last hour at work by checking on his/her ethical stocks, then had a swift half at the local, and finally returned home to put on a load of laundry. Now it’s time to fire up the old laptop and wander through the back-catalog of The Fall, sparked by the passing of Mark E. Smith, musical genius. In this post, I’m going to look at the ethics of laptops, using an approach similar to that used in the post on ethical cell phones. So, let’s first let’s take a look at existing ethical consumerism guides and see if there is any kind of consensus.
It’s also worth mentioning a couple of guides that have looked at specific aspects of the industry. In 2017, Greenpeace updated their guide to consumer electronics, ranking Apple, HP and Dell highly. The Enough Project ranks Apple, HP and Microsoft near the top for effort on sourcing conflict-free minerals from the Congo (Toshiba and Samsung are at the bottom, as they are on most lists). Overall, there isn’t a very clear consensus but you can see that Apple now ranks pretty well on several sites (having being criticized several times in the past for conflict minerals and poor working conditions). HP, Acer, and ASUS also score well in general.
A laptop is one of the most complex decisions to be made from an ethics viewpoint. Picking a brand of chocolate or shampoo suddenly looks pretty easy when you compare it to ranking electronics manufacturers.
Where do you start?
Well, since the idea of the GSP is to crowd-source opinions on ethical consumerism, it means that that each person should feel free to focus on one or two aspects of the company, if they wish, and it’ll all balance out. This approach also allows individuals to draw attention to a specific thing that needs to change.
Let’s try this for Apple!
Is Apple really an ethical choice?
So, instead of trying to cover every angle on the company, I’ll list a few things that come to mind when I think about Apple:
- Dongles! One thing that irks me (and many others) about Apple is their unwillingness to make connectors that are compatible with the rest of the industry. Apple has been labeled a dongle company these days – they make 23 different dongles that would cost over $850 to buy.
So, I have to balance the credit that Apple received for removal of some harmful materials like PVC from their products with the enormous quantity of wasteful dongles that could have been avoided, but instead were included by design.
- Stores! Apple has been applauded for their use of renewable energy, but that needs to be balanced with the number of high-powered stores all over the world. Renewable energy doesn’t come at zero cost to the environment and should still be conserved. The stores also come with a large footprint (building materials, etc.) that most other computer companies don’t have.
- Relentless marketing! Perhaps more than any other company of this generation, Apple has driven consumers into a frenzy of demand for new products. (Our local news program in San Francisco often runs “stories” about new iPhone features ) Over time, their products are becoming increasingly superfluous/ unnecessary: from the iPOD (Yay!) to the iPad (Um, do you really need that?) and then the Apple Watch (WTF? You know there are still starving people in the world?!).
In case you never noticed, some companies are more likely than others to push me into rant mode 😉 I could take this rant further and ask: why should we support a company who sells high-priced elitist products and gives very little back to society, compared to, say, Microsoft, where CEO Bill Gates is putting his billions to good work, tackling real problems like hunger, poverty, and malaria?
Or (if you’ll permit me to go into full rant mode!), rather than supporting an imperialist company that exploits workers in Asia, would it not be better to buy a laptop from an Asian company? It’s more likely to support that country’s economy and in theory the company has a larger vested interest in respecting workers and the environment.
Green Stars Review: ASUS Zenbook
I’m sticking to the theme of rating companies based on personal experience and tangible things such as the product itself, so I won’t go into detail here on ASUS company operations. But you can read my review of an ASUS Zenbook for more info. I first became interested in ASUS in 2011 when I had to buy a new laptop. They had just launched the Bamboo series of laptops, where much of the casing (top cover, palm rest and even the trackpad!) were made from bamboo. I bought one and named her Bambi and loved her. About a year ago I needed to get a new laptop (after six years, Bambi was still functional but I had to get a new laptop for various reasons) and got an ASUS Zenbook; it has 360-degree hinges and doubles as a tablet.
I do think that a company should be supported when they really take a risk to make something that’s more eco-friendly and to try to change the industry (an example would be Toyota for taking a risk on the Prius). Even though their bamboo laptop didn’t take off long-term (see this post on compostable potato chip bags for more on The Myth of the Ethical Consumer), ASUS deserve credit for trying.
Post… getting… too… long. I’ll leave you with a few quotes from my ASUS Zenbook Review.
Total greenhouse gas emissions (for core company operations) have decreased significantly in the last 5 years for both ASUS and Apple. Apple does this mainly by increasing the amount of green energy they buy or generate, while ASUS appear to do it by conservation and keeping their footprint small. I prefer the latter approach…
ASUS produced the world’s first lead-free and halogen-free motherboard.
One of the most basic things is product longevity and in my experience ASUS laptops are built to last and should provide more than 5 years of useful life.
ASUS laptops are designed so that the processor, memory, and interface cards can be disassembled with simple tools and ASUS have a recycle program of course.
They’ve rebuilt over 1200 used laptops and donated them to schools and also donated laptops to the Unlimited Potential (UP) program for women in Taiwan.
Score: 4/5 Green Stars
Check out this post where readers voted for the most ethical laptop. (Spoiler: in current standings, the top three rated brands begin with the letter A).