Examining Sustainability at Barnard

Laptops Before Barnard

The first MacBook Air was released on January 29, 2008. It was introduced with a 13.3 inch screen, and was the world’s thinnest laptop at the time. Since then, millions of MacBook Airs have been sold all over the world. The process for creating these notebooks has been changed multiple times since its creation with the new 2020 model being very eco-friendly. It is important to take a look at the many stages that lead to the finished product before it reaches consumers, specifically taking a look at the laborers and contributors that make its existence possible. 

Laptop Designers 

The MacBook Air design was created entirely in-house by Apple’s Industrial Design Group led by Jonathan Ive. This group has always been small, secretive, and crucial to Apple.1 The typical Apple Industrial Designer has an average salary of $197,139.2 This salary is equal to $94.78 an hour on a 40 hours work week. Essentially, the average Apple designer makes $91.63 more than the average Apple manufacturing personnel.  Although there are Apple offices in many countries, the most common location for designers to work out of is the Apple Headquarters (Apple Park) in Cupertino, CA. Laptop


Standard recycled aluminum accumulates impurities each time it's recycled, so Apple engineered a totally new alloy that can be recycled over and over again.

Almost all of the designs of "smarter chemistry" have been lifelong features of the product. The display is made out of arsenic-free glass - according to the World Health Organization (WHO), Arsenic is a highly toxic substance that can lead to many health related issues.3 Mercury is another substance that has the potential to cause serious health problems such as toxic effects on the nervous, digestive and immune systems, and on lunges, kidneys, skin, and eyes.4 Studies on brominated flame retardants (BFRs) suggest that it can lead to neurological and musculoskeletal symptoms.5 Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) contains toxic additives that pose unnecessary dangers when exposed for prolonged periods of time.6 The last substance mentioned, beryllium, is especially harmful when it is inhaled as it can damage lungs and lead to pneumonia.7



As stated in Apple's 2020 MacBook Air Environmental Report, the carbon emission produced by the MacBook Air is divided by the following: 

  • 77% Production 
  • 15% Use 
  • 7% Transport
  • <1% End-of-life processing

Laptop Manufacturing

Components for Apple products are sourced and collected from all over the world form around 500 suppliers predominantly in East Asia. The components like the display, application processor, memory, modem and other chips are not made in China, but over 95% of Apple products are assembled in China (not necessarily by Chinese owned companies) with the main assembler of Apple(AAPL) products being Foxconn. 

Other assembling companies for Apple products are:

Essentially, there are very few Apple products still being manufactured in the U.S.A. with the Apple Mac Pro - their most powerful desktop computer - being made in the states. 


Working Conditions

The starting pay at the world’s biggest iPhone factory, in Zhengzhou, China is about $3.15 per hour.8  Although, it is arguable that pay is the worst part of these factory jobs. “Contract manufacturers such as Foxconn and Pegatron aren’t perfect, there are many very real and documented cases of abuse at their factories, unsafe working conditions, and poor environmental stewardship. Perhaps not what Foxconn and Pegatron pay, but what they make their workers go through to get those wages.”9 Despite the MacBook Air not being made out of toxic substances, the conditions these laborers must deal with are still grueling and ethically questionable. Despite Apple's claims of trying to put an end to excessively long workweeks, the standard maximum at its factories is 60 hours. Foxconn specifically keeps their employees in over crowded dormitories run by military-like security forces where there is often no compensation for overtime. Meanwhile, Foxconn owner Terry Gou has a net worth at $10.6 billion dollars and Apple Inc. is the first company in history to reach a market value of $1 trillion. Apple products would never be realized without these workers, thus the labor and skill required by the manufactoring employees is essential and should be paid and treated as such.


These laptops will get to Barnard through almost the exact same process as personal student orders (with significantly much more paperwork due to the price of the laptops). A DHC employee would file a Purchase Order requiring a quote from the order, and eventually be able to order from Apple.com. 


As can be seen by Apple's environmental report, the vast majority of the MacBook’s packaging is fiber based. Fiber-based packaging is made from fibrous material, typically virgin pulpwood. Although the environmental and social factors of plastic are worse, fiber-based packaging still has great faults. Globally, issues linked to the production of fiber-based packaging includes a loss of biodiversity, social conflict, water pollution, and greenhouse emissions.10 Much like with all forms of production, the scale of the impact varies on the companies use. One of the benefits of using fiber-based packaging though, is its recyclability. Furthermore, Apple Inc. gathers these materials from “responsibly managed forests.” Responsibly managed forests are used to preserve the health and diversity of the forest while meeting society’s demand for forest products. In order to preserve the forest, clear cutting (when every single marketable tree is cut down) is prohibited, the rights of indigenous peoples must be respected, and biodiversity, productivity, and regeneration capacity must be maintained. 

Transportation to Barnard

Since all MacBooks are built in China they originally ship from China and are occasionally already at Cupertino by the time they are ordered online from Apple USA. They then have to make their way across the United States from California to New York, NY to get to Barnard. A flight from China to California is 14 hours and a flight from California to New York takes about 5 hours. This is only an estimated amount of flight time and does not include the time/ waste that occurs when driving to the different facilities. The laptops will then leave the storage facility it was placed in when it arrived to New York and be moved to the UPS or USPS distribution facility. From there, the typical procedures of ground shipment would be followed by either company. Once the laptops have arrived at Barnard, they are left in the Barnard Mail Room to be delivered to the DHC in the Milstein Center.

For more information on Apple Inc. environmental impact and sustainability goals take a look at the following:
Environmental Responsibility Report for 2019, covering the 2018 fiscal year

2020 MacBook Air Environmental Report 

1. Christine McKee | 1 hour ago, et al. “Apple's Famous Design Team Now Has No Original Members Left.” AppleInsider, appleinsider.com/articles/19/05/03/apples-famous-design-team-now-has-no-original-members-left.
2.“Apple Industrial Designer Salaries.” Glassdoor, www.glassdoor.com/Salary/Apple-Industrial-Designer-Salaries-E1138_D_KO6,25.htm.
3. “Arsenic.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/arsenic.
4. “Mercury and Health.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mercury-and-health.
5. Darnerud, Per Ola. “Toxic effects of brominated flame retardants in man and in wildlife.” Environment international vol. 29,6 (2003): 841-53. doi:10.1016/S0160-4120(03)00107-7
6.Ljohnson. “Department of Human Services: PVC – a Major Source of Phthalates.” Department of Human Services | PVC – a Major Source of Phthalates, www.state.nj.us/humanservices/opmrdd/health/pvc.html.
7. “Water Treatment Solutions.” Lenntech Water Treatment & Purification, www.lenntech.com/periodic/elements/be.htm.
8. “Workers Making Apple IPhones Start at $3.15 Per Hour--in China.” CNSNews.com, www.cnsnews.com/commentary/terence-p-jeffrey/workers-making-apple-iphones-start-315-hour-china.
9. Reynolds, Sam. “Putting Apple Factory Workers Wages in Context.” Wccftech, Wccftech, 18 June 2019, wccftech.com/apple-factory-workers-wages-slaves-iphone/.
10. Fiber-based Packaging." Engage the Chain. https://engagethechain.org/sites/default/files/commodity/Ceres_EngageTheChain_FiberPack.pdf#:~:text=Fiber% 2Dbased%20packaging%20is%20made%20from%20fibrous%20material%E2%80%94,impacts%20described%20in%20this%20brief

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