Source article Here: Article

Briefly: United Airlines are giving their 11,000 pilots iPads in an effort to increase efficiency, etc. They're making manuals and other documents electronic.

As a side-benefit, they claim, there will be a big reduction in greenhouse gas emissions: 3,208 metric tons per year.

However, nowhere have I seen the emissions generated by the manafacture and distribution of 11,000 iPads taken into account.

What might the net increase or reduction in greenhouse gas emissions be? I suggest assuming an iPad is good for 3 years, but I leave that up to you.

According to Apple's Own Information an iPad2 causes 105kg of greenhouse gases from start to finish. Multiply that by 11,000 and you have 1,155 metric tons. Being their own publicised information, it could be highly idealised. Also, this doesn't include additional resources needed by the airline to roll out the devices.

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    The critical component missing is how much paper an aircraft hauls. Because I suspect that for a 10 pound brick the emissions of just flying it around over its lifetime may be higher than the production costs. Aug 25, 2011 at 11:14
  • This change is being made because it will reduce fuel consumption and give other benefits. That it reduces its "Carbon Footprint" is the green spin. If it increased carbon footprint but reduced operating costs United would still do it they would just do it quietly.
    – Chad
    Aug 25, 2011 at 20:45
  • Chad, I think you're right. That's why I thought I'd see what people here thought.
    – puppybeard
    Aug 26, 2011 at 8:54
  • @Puppybeard i think that the carbon footprint is a scam to make money selling carboncredits. But I am not allowed to ask that here.
    – Chad
    Aug 26, 2011 at 14:51
  • Chad, the way I understand it, carbon footprint is just another name for "total greenhouse emissions". I don't see how that could be a scam. As for carbon credits, I think their benefit is exagerrated, and they're an excuse for companies to pretend to be environmentally friendly without making any systematic changes. Planting trees is good and all, but things don't cancel out magically.
    – puppybeard
    Aug 27, 2011 at 8:46

1 Answer 1


The iPad weighs about a kilo, and replaces 17 kilos of paper. Hauling around a kilo of payload takes about half a kilo of fuel (mostly spent in achieving altitude). So with 1000 flights per year (this differs per airline, short hop planes fly more), each iPad will save about 8 tons of fuel annually, or about 20 tons of CO2. That's already two orders of magnitude better than the 105kg from production in the first year of use.

Additional environmental benefits come from the fact that a lot of the paperwork changes over time: a large part is maps and regulations of all airports, and these do change over time. (e.g. warnings about buildings near the flightpath). Producing and distributing several kilos of updated books takes far more resources than a download.

[update] United is actually a lot less optimistic: "Saving 326,000 gallons of jet fuel a year reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 3,208 metric tons." That's less than 1/3rd of a ton per iPad. And to a degree, that makes sense: I had silently assumed that each iPad flew a thousand flights a year, because every plane did. But United has ~6200 pilots and ~460 planes. Clearly each pilot gets its own iPad, not each plane. And that probably also means there will be two iPads per plane.

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    And change a lot those books do... While some of the charts are on a 6 month cycle, the biggest set of books (the approach plates) are replaced every 28 days! As a private pilot, I go through what seems like a mountain of them just having them for the tri-state area that I live in. Commercial pilots that may need the entire set are throwing away (recycling hopefully) a whole bookshelf worth that often! Side note, I tried electronic charts, but went back to paper as it's more reliable and is actually cheaper overall for me... Aug 25, 2011 at 13:18
  • From Apple's page, the iPad 2 will weigh about 600g, or HALF a kilo.
    – fred
    Aug 25, 2011 at 13:22
  • Can you please quote where on the wiki page you got the figure of "Hauling around a kilo of payload takes about half a kilo of fuel (mostly spent in achieving altitude)." Aug 26, 2011 at 19:50
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    Two iPads a plane sounds like a good idea to begin with -- single points of failure being a bad idea, and all... Aug 27, 2011 at 12:55
  • 1
    @fred: 1kg = 1000g, not 1200g ;-P
    – vartec
    Aug 27, 2011 at 21:06

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