A slightly-less-gaunt Steve Jobs announced new iPods on Wednesday, Crikey time.

But as the world ooo-ed and aaaah-ed over the new colours and features, less attention has been paid to some things that aren’t in the new machines. Like arsenic, mercury and brominated flame retardants, a chemical nasty banned in bits of Europe.

Steve Jobs gave these omissions a mention at the new iPods’ launch, anointing the new Nano as the least toxic iPod to date.

Why be so prominently green? Because Apple has copped it from Greenpeace, which singled out the company by describing its products as producing iPoison. Apple has fought back with a statement of its plans to get greener.

It’s now delivered, leaving some other would-be IT treehuggers looking a bit dodgy in their efforts to paint themselves as greenies.

The rush to do so has been on since ever since the price of electricity started to climb and big users of IT realised that power bills were starting to make their accounts departments nervous. Every IT vendor capable of distinguishing a tree from a shrub has since planted the seeds of a green strategy.

Dell, for example, has Dell Earth and in Australia will cart away an old PC for safe disposal. IBM is spending $1 billion to increase the energy efficiency. Using less juice means some weight off the bottom line, but the IT crowd has been quick to conflate less power with trees galore, happy children and carbon-free future.

But until this week’s iPod launch, you’d hardly ever hear about the cocktail of chemical and carboniferous nastiness that goes into electronic devices. According to the 2002 tome Computers and the Environment, just the chips in an average computer required 310 litres of H2O to manufacture, a process that embodied 94kg of fossil fuel and 7.1kg of chemicals.

All for a piece of silicon weighing less than a gram, that then has to be schlepped to our shores along with all the other stuff that makes up a computer before being disposed of three to five years later once its parts have all been superseded.

Then there’s Nitrogen Trifluoride, a gas used to make LCD screens and other silicon goodies. It’s also a greenhouse gas of savage potency and has stirred up some heated debate in New Scientist, which seems to be have been smacked down for calling it the “missing greenhouse gas.”

Some vendors are more genuine in their green efforts, adopting green supply chains and greener materials. IT services companies are switching off the lights and recycling like mad.

But on the product side of the house, the most common claim remains electricity savings.

Some of those are laughable. AntiGeek was last week presented with a new product claimed to save $38 a year in an-entry level configuration. That may not buy a lot of trees, but was probably hoped to buy a lot of kudos.

But even the kudos is not happening. This week, IT analysis outfit Gartner emitted a press release saying that the IT industry is on the green bandwagon, but understanding how green they are is jolly hard.

The lesson to take from all of this? Don’t eat your iPod, people!

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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