Reputation Wrap Up: Is Apple’s iPad iEco-Friendly?

This week’s Reputation Wrap-Up looks at Apple’s newest product, the iPad. When a company’s brand equity rests in its technological innovations, where does the responsibility for sustainable, earth-friendly products lie? What happens to reputation when traditional product expectations face new green demands?

Last weekend, after frenzied anticipation, the long-awaited Apple iPad was finally released into the consumer technology wilderness. A hybridized tablet computer and e-reader announced by Apple in January, the iPad has received both harsh critique and approving accolades from the industry’s top tech authorities. Despite mixed reviews, Apple consumers are abuzz with the new product. Less than a week since the release, more than 500,000 iPads have been sold, and analysts are predicting that more than 5 million iPads will be in the hands and hearts of tablet lovers before the year’s end.

Apple's Newest Product, the iPad. Photo from Apple.com

Continuous release of new products and platforms has branded Apple as an innovator. Encouraged by Apple’s user-friendly products, strong sense of aesthetics, and extremely refined sales approach, Apple consumers are iLoyalists, but what happens when “I am a Mac” intersects with “I care about the planet”?

With a little exploring of the Apple and the Environment website, it’s made clear that “eco-friendly” plays a big role in the company’s conduct: “Apple reports environmental impact comprehensively. We do this by focusing on our products: what happens when we design them, what happens when we make them, and what happens when you take them home and use them.” Unfortunately, Apple has shared limited information about the iPad’s green specs – consumers have been left in the dark, and it’s not Earth Hour.

Last week, both the New York Times and the Huffington Post published pieces about the iPad’s environmental impact, and the stories couldn’t be more different. The NYT’s Op-Chat analysis chalks up the iPad and all other e-readers as eco-enemies: “With respect to fossil fuels, water use and mineral consumption, the impact of one e-reader payback equals roughly 40 to 50 books. When it comes to global warming, though, it’s 100 books; with human health consequences, it’s somewhere in between. All in all, the most ecologically virtuous way to read a book starts by walking to your local library.”

Meanwhile, HuffPo’s coverage spins a different tale. Noting the recycled aluminum casing, energy-friendly LED illumination, mercury- and PVC-free materials, and paper-saving benefits of the product, the online authority dubs the iPad a “green gadget.”

Mixed reviews of the iPad’s eco footprint make me wonder why Apple hasn’t taken advantage of the product release to explain, boost and amplify their eco achievements and green goals. Apple’s reputation lies in positive innovation, and opinion leaders and consumers will be quick to criticize a shortcoming. In a space as talked about as sustainability, limited communication about the iPad’s environmental impact runs the risk of tarnishing Apple’s shiny reputation – we must not forget, one bad apple ruins the bunch.

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