There have been numerous articles about whether the Prius is green or not. Some are very positive, while others pretend the opposite. Some even went as far as pretending the Hummer was greener than the Prius, but that one got put to bed.
The fundamental debate is what to measure. In my mind the only true way to assess the impact of a product on the environment is to look at its whole lifecycle, from manufacturing to recycling. To do that, one would have to measure the impact the manufacturing of a product has. The greenhellblog mentioned above points out the environmental impact of the nickel that goes into the batteries. That being said, measuring greenhouse gas emissions does not paint the complete picture as water and other resources should be managed in the same way. Chandrakant Patel from HPLabs is talking about the energy/exergy equation, measuring everything in joules. Although this approach is still in early stages it really has appeal as it allows to compare apples and apples.
Up to 80% of the environmental impact of a product is defined at design stage, making design for the environment critical in the development and manufacturing of environmental friendly products. This requires to perform several tasks at once:
- Ensure environmental friendly materials are used
- Adapt the form factor to maximize the amount of product that can be loaded on a pallet
- Limit packaging material to a minimum
- Design the product in such a way it can be taken apart quickly for easy recycling
- Marking parts to identify materials used
- Minimize the energy consumption in the manufacturing process
- Ensure minimal energy consumption during operations
When announcing its macbook pro, Apple points out the environmental sound design of the unibody enclosure, an aluminium body manufactured from in one piece, making it lighter, and environmental friendly as a result. They even go as far as proposing a video, and here is where my amazement started. The engineering is done by NC machines and lazers, from a single block of aluminium, of which 90% or so is scraped off. You are not telling me this is environmental friendly, isn’t it? First the energy to make the aluminium block, second the one to scrape off al that metal (not even thinking about the water/oil mix used in the process) and third the energy needed to recycle the aluminium particles in the next block. That’s a lot of energy used if you ask me. Maybe I am missing something, but frankly this does not sound like very environmental friendly, and I am not sure the energy saved during the use of the product (thanks to its LED screen) covers up for the manufacturing.
Looking at things end-to-end is the only way we can get truly environmental friendly products, but this requires the gathering of a lot of information at all steps of the design, manufacturing, use and recycling of the product.