Apple CO2e Data Gives Useful Guidance for All Gear Use

Apple is becoming increasingly transparent about the environmental impact of its products. This is providing us with a wealth of data about sustainable use of IT products and e-devices. Apple's analysis of its products' lifecycle CO2e emissions, embodied and use, is a case in point.

Edge Gear

Table 1 iPod Classic iPhone4 Mac mini MacBook MacBook Pro 17” Mac Pro
Total CO2e (kg) 23 55 270 350 700 2110
CO2e from Use* 31% 49% 39% 37% 28% 59%
Use CO2e* (kg) 7 27 105 130 196 1,245

Table 1 makes two important points critical to Green ICT.

First, we see reinforcement for the fact that most edge gear's environmental impact occurs before it even arrives in our facility or home. This is true of for all but one of these devices just on the basis of the CO2e alone ('embodied' CO2e). Add in the other impacts of materials extraction, manufacture, and transportation and the pre-use impact can reach 75% of life-cycle impact for some gear.

Second, compare the impacts between the two desktops (Mac mini and Mac Pro) or between the two laptops (MacBooks). We see the environmental cost of buying the most powerful option available, something we have previously noted for storage devices and networking gear.

More on CO2e from Apple edge gear in our posts on the Mac mini and the iPhone4.

Configs Matter

Table 2 Config A
Mac mini
(no display)
Config B
Mac mini server
(no display)
Config C
Mac mini
24" LED Cinema Display
Total CO2e (kg) 270 710 1250
CO2e from Use* 39% 77% 52%
Use CO2e* (kg) 105 574 654

We discovered evidence of a third Green ICT principle while mining the Apple CO2e data: configuration details and use cases can can cause energy/CO2e to vary widely. Comparing Table 2's A and C configurations illustrates how the attachment of significantly higher energy/CO2e components can undermine a nicely-performing base configuration. Comparing A and B illustrates how deploying the same hardware** for different uses can yield very different results.

For another example, see how the addition of Apple's high-bandwidth networking cards disqualifies the Mac Pro from EPEAT Gold status.

Size Matters

Table 3 11" MacBook Air
MC505, MC506
17" MacBook Pro
Total CO2e (kg) 300 350 700
CO2e from Use* 31% 37% 28%
Use CO2e* (kg) 93 130 196

Finally, there is the "how big and powerful a machine do you need?" issue. Compare the opposite ends of Apple's notebook line in Table 3. Most laptop lifecycle CO2e comes from manufacture/disposal, not use. Prematurely replacing an older laptop with a greener one isn't greener. As with much ICT gear, a bigger, more powerful laptop carries a substantial CO2e premium.


Servers are the opposite of laptops. Look at configuration B in Table 2, the Mac mini server. Note that its usage CO2e is a whopping 77% of lifecycle CO2e. A Microsoft report suggest it could be as high as 91%: "Hardware comes with an 'embodied' carbon footprint from the energy associated with producing, distributing and disposing of equipment. For the scenarios analyzed, this energy outlay adds about 10 percent to the footprint from IT operations."

It may make more sense to replace an inefficient server than an inefficient laptop. Microsoft claims a switch to cloud computing offers an even more efficient alternative than server replacement.

Apple is to be commended for publishing this data. You can review the Environmental Reports for most Apple products online.

* Does not include CO2e associated with recycling, which is typically an additional 1%-2% of the total CO2e. Use CO2e is for a four-year period.

*** A and C are running Snow Leopard; B is running Snow Leopard Server. Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server is an ENERGY STAR qualified small scale server.

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