Sunday, October 9, 2011

How green is iPhone 4S?

Apple iPhone 4S is official and the pre-orders seem to point to a blockbuster launch. I was curious to see how eco friendly is the new iPhone 4S.

We know that in terms of outward appearance Apple iPhone 4S shares the same form factor as the iPhone 4 so packaging should be the same as iPhone 4. According to the iPhone 4 product environmental report, the packaging of the current iPhone 4 is 14% lighter and consumes 14% less volume that iPhone 3GS. This means that more units now fit in a shipping container thereby resulting in fewer CO2 emissions. However there are some differences as compared to iPhone 4, the most alarming is the estimated greenhouse gas emissions for iPhone 4S over its life cycle. According to the iPhone 4S product environmental report, the estimated greenhouse gas emissions over the product life cycle for iPhone 4S is 70kg CO2 which is considerably higher to 45kg CO2 for iPhone 4.

So what changed? The two biggest components that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions are production and customer use. In case of iPhone 4, the production accounted for 57% or roughly 26kg CO2 whereas customer use accounted for 34% or roughly 15kg of CO2. In case of iPhone 4S, the production accounted for 69% or roughly 48kg CO2 whereas customer use accounted for 23% or roughly 16kg of CO2. That means the production of an iPhone 4S is generating more emissions single handedly than those generated by all activities combined for iPhone 4. Apple being so secretive about its product development and manufacturing, it will be hard to understand the exact reasons.

In terms of restricted substances, Apple boasts of arsenic-free display glass, mercury free LED-backlit display, BFR free, PVC free and use of packaging material made of post-consumer recycled and bio materials. The power adapter outperforms the ENERGY STAR specifications. Apple offers free recycling at 95% of locations where its sold.

Energy efficiency will get a get a boost with the introduction of dual core processor A5 chip which will be able to do more with less as compared to A4 in iPhone 4. The new chip can dynamically adjust its frequency to save battery life thereby providing more talk time.

Although not directly but with the introduction of a sharper 8 megapixel camera with 1080p video Apple may reduce the consumption of the point and shoot cameras which sure will help in reducing some of the CO2 emissions. The argument is similar to downloading a song to the device than buying a CD from a store or having one shipped by mail. The cloud-based services through iCloud may additionally consolidate some personal storage thereby reducing the energy footprint further.

Measuring the environmental impact of iPhone 4S features may be difficult but in terms of measurable features like the greenhouse gas emissions Apple definitely seems to have taken a step back.

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