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Green Apple Macs

Don't get Mac users started. There are a million reasons why a Mac is better than a PC, and if you're a PC fan, you're not going to win this debate. Much of the argument for Macs vs. PC centers on usability, reliability and sometimes, just subjective preference for a Mac. Die hard Mac users will never switch to a PC, but is there a new factor that just might convince PC user holdouts to make the switch?

Apple is now advertising their Mac mini as one of the first truly green computers. But what does this really mean? Is this just another way of advertising meant to tug on the consciences of those of us who have decided to green our lives? In this new wave of eco-technology, Apple is at the forefront (at least this is what they claim). How green is Apple?

The new Mac mini's impact on the environment is touted to be as small as it is, and "the world's most energy-efficient desktop computer." It was designed with its entire lifecycle in mind in terms of energy efficiency, performance, material content, and recyclability.

Energy efficiency in a computer is easy to measure - there's nothing subjective about that. We also know what materials can and can't be recycled, so that's clear as well. Same for materials used. Heavy metals: bad; safe materials: good. A computer that uses less energy is OF COURSE better for our planet, as are all the other energy efficient appliances we can now buy for household use.

One thing that CAN'T be measured as concretely is the impact of the manufacturing process used to produce these computers. Most computers are no longer manufactured in the United States, and Macs are no exception. Most are produced in China or other Asian countries, where production of most computer components is outsourced. Why? Simple: because it's cheaper. And it's cheaper in part because developing countries like China have less stringent environmental regulations and more lax labor standards - hence lower production costs.

The energy that goes into producing the energy efficient Mac mini could be produced with "dirty energy" from coal or other polluting electricity generating methods. Likewise, unless there's careful oversight, components could be used that don't meet all the green standards set by Apple production headquarters in the United States. Onsite monitoring is crucial. Finally, for a product to be truly green, the labor component of production must be considered. Are workers paid fair wages and do they work reasonable hours? What are their working conditions?

So the answer to the "Green Apple" question is not that simple. It's yet to be seen how green the new minis really are, but one thing is clear. In the computer world, Apple is taking the lead and the greening of the new Mac mini is a good start.  

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