Being green is a far more complex issue than it can appear and is so much more than the environmental impact of the manufacturing process. I’m sure it is a serious dilemma for any manufacturer that they must keep selling products, and yet prolonging the life span of items already sold will presumably reduce future sales. Engineered failure rates are one way to try and maintain future sales but it’s dangerous as this can permanently damage the brand image and is not something Apple is likely to try, even if they were tempted. However, limiting the options for repair of your product is a much safer option.
Apple offers great in-warranty repair service but accidental damage and out-of-warranty repairs are an area where there is great scope to discourage repairs by making them uneconomical with much less potential damage to the brand. No-one can say for sure whether this is an active policy at Apple, or any other manufacturer but as an Apple service parts supplier, we see many cases which would indicate that it is. As an example which you can judge for yourself, the Aluminium iMac optical drives are set back from the casing with a slotted bezel to guide the disk to the drive. There is no obvious positive reason for this as it takes up more space inside the machine, requires a larger plastic bezel and most importantly, means that normal stock models of optical drive will not work because even with the disk pushed in up to the casing, the drive has still not ‘grabbed it’. As an example, Apple appears to have had a modified version of the UJ-875 made by Panasonic which grabs the disk 10mm further out than the normal UJ-875 which is widely available on the open market. This means that what could have been a relatively cheap repair by any competent repairer becomes almost impossible without paying the full rate for the repair at an Authorised Apple Service Provider (AASP).
Another example would be the current unibody design of Apple’s laptops. It’s a very clever process with obvious benefits but underneath it all we have to question the decision to make the keyboard an integral part of the main unibody chassis. The keyboard is one of the parts most commonly needing replacement in a laptop and the design choice to make it necessary to rebuild the entire laptop into a new aluminium unibody chassis to replace the keyboard undeniably results in a great deal of machines being written off as non-economically repairable which would not be if the keyboard unit could be easily replaced as it could no earlier models like the pre-unibody MacBook Pros. As it happens, The Bookyard are still able to source replacement keyboard modules which can be fitted to an existing unibody shell but it still requires the entire laptop to be taken apart and approx. 60 minuscule screws to be removed and refitted. Is it co-incidence that the latest MacBook Airs have switched from screws to aluminium riveting to secure their keyboards, effectively making it virtually impossible to replace the keyboard on it’s own? Aluminium is a valuable metal so surely it is environmentally irresponsible creating a design where the entire aluminium body must be scrapped every time there is a keyboard fault.
Then there is the issue of what a manufacturer COULD do to make their machines more resilient and therefore reduce the number of scrapped machines. Even if a machine is ‘recycled’ responsibly, this is still less environmentally responsible than preventing the machine from needing to be recycled. Apple has a quite sophisticated system of moisture indicators dotted throughout the inside of it’s products so that it can refuse warranty repairs based on liquid damage. I would love to be able to verify this but from our experience of buying insurance company write off machines, I believe that liquid damage is accounts for more complete machine write-offs than any other cause (many of them quite minor spills) and it is hard not to wonder whether the money invested in moisture detection would be better spent designing the products to be more resilient to liquid. In most case the liquid goes down through the keyboard to the logic board directly underneath so a waterproof (or even splash resistant) membrane under the keyboard could prevent many write-offs, let alone the available techniques for coating entire circuit boards with waterproof coatings that make them liquid resistant.
Even the basic service model the Apple employs to only supply it’s service spares to AASPs and prevent them under contracts from selling them on (they are only permitted to fit them) is a two edged sword. Apple’s argument is that it allows them to maintain a consistent level of expertise and user experience of the repair process which sounds very noble, and although it certainly discourages cowboy repairers, it is rather to convenient for Apple as it means that there would be no healthy competition if this policy worked, and users would not be given a choice. As it happens, The Bookyard has found various ways, the main one being recycling machines, to provide Apple service spares on the open market to both consumers and repair centres because we believe users should have a choice. Through supplying over 500 repair companies regularly we know there are many excellent local repairers with far more experience and expertise than your average Apple certified technician who can offer personal service and out of warranty/accidental damage repairs for a fraction of the cost of an AASP, in many cases making it viable to keep a machine running rather than scrapping it and … preventing the sale of a new Mac.
The reality is that all manufacturers must walk a fine line between being seen to be environmentally responsible enough and making their company as profitable as they can. We certainly don’t judge Apple for this or think that they are any worse than any other manufacturer, but I also don’t think we should be naive as it is user and media pressure that determines exactly where that fine line is.
That’s just our take. What are your thoughts and experiences?