A suburban greenmom sings “dies irae” to her beloved Toshiba laptop…
Chick Fil-A. Big in the news a few weeks ago, remember? (I know, in media time, that was so five minutes ago!)
Leaving all the rest of the passionate repartee out of it, there’s one aspect of that whole noisy incident I’d like to look at: the question of what we buy, where it came from, whom we buy it from, and who produces and creates it?
I can’t tell you how many times during the whole debate about CFA, political stances, boycotts, and so forth I heard someone say, “Oh for heaven’s sake, you can’t worry about every single company you buy something from, what they stand for, where the product comes from, and all that stuff, or you’ll go crazy!” And usually, right at that moment is where I’d enter the debate.
Because crazy or not, as far as I’m concerned, that’s where responsible consumerism enters the picture. Because once you start paying attention to that very batch of questions, once you open your eyes to the impact your purchases have on people and environments all over the globe, it’s hard to close them again. And yes, it makes you crazy, because so often there aren’t any “good” choices, all you can do is try your best. Community-supported agriculture and secondhand clothing is easy.
Replacing your need-it-for-work-and-life-circumstances computer when the old one dies—that’s pretty hard.
In about 2006 I bought a refurbished Toshiba notebook computer. It was honestly the best machine I ever used, it was fast and non-buggy and rarely gave me any trouble. And in the spirit of the greenie, I have held onto it ever since then. I upgraded the hard drive, I upgraded the memory, I replaced the battery and then the AC adapter; every time it started getting frustrating and slow I figured out something I could do to make it work better without actually discarding it and purchasing a new machine. Then last week it…just kind of died. My husband the computer geek helped me confirm that the hard drive and all my data were fine, and to fully and finally back everything up so I wouldn’t lose anything important, and then he took it to work to see if his fellow computer geeks could figure out why it wouldn’t power up.
Over that long-seeming weekend I had time to decide what I would do if they couldn’t fix it. And with the “you can’t worry about all that stuff, you’ll go crazy!” refrain of many pro-CFA facebook friends ringing in my brain, I went into research mode.
I looked up a lot of websites, and a lot of information, much of it very likely out of date. In terms of labor practices, there’s almost no possibility of a good choice: they all seem to be made in
China at the
same few giant companies that overwork and underpay their employees and have
them living in fairly squalid conditions.
All the major companies seem to have pledged to get PVC and brominated flame retardants out of their products, but many set dates by when they would have it done that are far in the past, and they still haven’t pulled it off. Apple seems to be the only one who’s actually gotten a lot of the toxics out, and they seem to be more responsible about recycling than many of the others. On the other hand, Apple seems far more into the whole “planned obsolescence” thing than most of the PC companies—with an Apple, everything’s glued together and in one piece, so there’s almost no possibility of just kind of replacing a part here, a chip there, a drive over here. It’s all or nothing.
So, for anyone in a similar position, I offer the links I discovered; please, if any of you have gone through this research yourselves, I’d welcome other links as well!:
Wikipedia’s article on Apple, Inc. (Don’t scoff. Wikipedia is awesome. You just have to look for references.)
Several links from GreenAmerica’s responsible shopper company database—for Toshiba, Dell, and Apple—as well as a general link about computer purchasing. (These all seem a little dated, though.)
The EPEAT website, a registry for greener electronics. They have a registry page where you can search for computers in the bronze, silver, or gold categories, or where you can look by manufacturer. A discussion of the criteria they use can be found here.
Finally Treehugger’s article on the topic is 5 years old (though not as old as my computer!), but it has some good perspectives. Including the first sentence: “the greenest notebook computer is the one you have and keep using.” Sigh…
So—I open now to the comments! How do you guys, my conscious-shopping friends, approach things like this where you’re sort of boxed into a situation where there aren’t any really good choices, only less-bad ones? And what did you do the last time one of your computers died? (Plus—an invitation to bragging rights for anyone who has a still-working laptop older than mine!)
--Jenn the Greenmom