With the new Mac Studio and Studio Display, Apple has essentially told enthusiasts and professionals that if they want higher-performance computing, they’ll need to move on from the 27-inch iMac all-in-one. That means buying two separate products that are made in two separate locations, shipped on two separate planes and trucks and arriving in two separate boxes.
If you’re an enthusiast or pro who is looking to maximize performance while minimizing your climate impacts, that doesn’t seem to be a winning combination. But according to Apple’s environmental reports, the combination of a Mac Studio and Studio Display produces nearly 50 percent fewer carbon emissions over its lifetime than the iMac Pro.
How did that happen?
Apple hasn’t said much beyond what was mentioned at the keynote and what’s in the environmental reports. But by diving into the reports, we can begin to understand where the company made improvements and where it might have gotten better at estimating its own footprint.
Apple, along with several other computer manufacturers, releases reports about the environmental impact of its products. These reports are usually created by experts within the company who query its supply chain and run the data through sophisticated models. The entire process is called life-cycle assessment, and one of the results is often a product’s carbon footprint, or how much carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) it produces over its lifetime.
Life-cycle analysis experts collect data from suppliers, calculate how much pollution different electric grids produce, and estimate how much energy it will take to recycle and dispose of the products when they reach the end of their lives. Approaches may vary, but most companies follow a pair of ISO standards to generate the reports.
The figures are not perfect, and ideally, companies will report the uncertainties of their estimates. (Apple, unfortunately, does not.) Typically, these reports are audited by third parties paid by the company. Apple’s description of its methodology doesn’t use the word “audit,” though, instead saying that its “data and modeling approaches are checked for quality and accuracy by the Fraunhofer Institute in Germany.” That’s probably something like an audit, but it’s a curious omission.
In a perfect world, life-cycle assessments would be audited by an independent organization that doesn’t have a financial relationship with the manufacturer. That’s obviously something the industry should strive for, but the status quo is better than nothing.