Apple ditch eco-friendly EPEAT certification: Throw away computers on the horizon?

11-07-2012

A few days ago, CIO journal reported that Apple was dropping the eco-friendly EPEAT certification from all its products. The move was unusual for Apple, which has spent several years trying to green-up its act. Now some consequences of that decision are coming, as the city of San Francisco says that it won’t buy any more Apple products. Meanwhile, Apple says its as green as ever.

EPEAT, or the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, certifies electronic devices that meet certain standards for recyclability and energy efficiency. Apple’s decision to de-list all of its products from the standard is particularly odd, since it was part of a conglomeration of companies, environmentalists, and government agencies that created the standard in the first place.

The goernment’s role in creating the standard is not incidental, as it has been widely adopted by governmental, educational, and business institutions as a guideline for what computers will be purchased. If it doesn’t have EPEAT certification, it simply won’t be considered by some groups.

That seems to be the case in San Francisco, where the city government has decided to forgo future Apple purchases - From Joel Schectman - the Wall Street Journal.

“We are disappointed that Apple chose to withdraw from EPEAT,” said Melanie Nutter, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment, “and we hope that the city saying it will not buy Apple products will make Apple reconsider its participation.”

San Francisco has held a policy of only purchasing EPEAT electronics since 2007, and seems to be following that decision now. In our original report on Apple’s abandoning EPEAT, we noted that Executive Order 13423 requires that all federal offices only purchase EPEAT equipment.

Apple's decision may be tied to the design of the new MacBook Pros, which have batteries glued into the case and can't be disassembled for recycling -- a violation of the green certification standards of EPEAT, a nonprofit product rating group backed by many manufacturers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I've had some conversations, and Apple has said that their design direction is not compatible with EPEAT standards," the group's CEO, Robert Frisbee, said in an interview Monday. "It's kind of odd since they've helped design" the standards.

Greenpeace spokesman Casey Harrell said Apple "has pitted design against the environment -- and chosen design. They're making a big bet that people don't care, but recycling is a big issue."

Apple has often boasted that its computers and laptops achieve "gold ratings" from EPEAT on its environmental reports. It's withdrawal will eliminate numerous products -- 39 laptops, desktop computers and monitors -- from the well-known green registry.

Geeks at iFixit tore down the new MacBook Pro with Retina last month and found that the battery was stuck to the case with industrial-strength glue, meaning
you can't replace an old battery with a new one.

The MacBook Pro was also missing a gold certificate from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool,
or EPEAT, a rating system for electronics that looks at various factors about a product's environmental impact,
including longevity and recyclability.

So why would Apple make the new MacBook Pro-a locked-down, non-upgradeable
machine with a hefty price tag starting at $2,199-nearly impossible to replace the battery? After all, Apple has been a leader in producing environmentally friendly electronics
products.

The clue lies in the life of a lithium battery. Every time you go through a charge cycle on, say, your iPhone,
you'll permanently lose 30 seconds to a minute of battery capacity. Typically, you'll get 250 to 500 charge cycles
before a lithium ion battery has outlived its usefulness. A non-replaceable MacBook battery means you will need to
buy another computer rather than swap out the battery.

"Americans upgrade cell phones every 18 months now," says iFixit's Kyle Wiens. "If Apple can get us to buy a new
computer every 18 months, they'd make a whole lot more money."

(Check out outdoor survivalist Bear Grylls showing how to start a fire by sticking the point of a knife into a cell phone's lithium battery below.)

Wiens wasn't surprised to hear Apple withdrew from the EPEAT registry shortly after releasing the
non-upgradeable MacBook Pro. The product will be a nightmare for recyclers, he says, and EPEAT probably would not
have been able to give it a gold certificate anyway.

It took iFixit two days to separate the casing from the battery in its MacBook Pro with Retina teardown. "After
a lot of elbow grease, we were finally able to get them apart but punctured the battery, leaking hazardous goo all
over," he says.

 It remains to be seen whether or not Apple reverses course again. The iFixit crew, though, isn't holding its
breath. Apple has made it harder to extend the life of its products, essentially choosing green cash over the green
environment.

Apple has offered no explanation for why it would glue the batteries into the new MacBook Pros or in other ways make its products difficult to disassemble, but the company has a long history of designing products to discourage tinkering by their users.

It notified EPEAT of its withdrawal in a letter Thursday, but didn't elaborate on its reasons. An Apple representative Monday declined to comment, saying only that the company remains committed to the environment.

However, Apple claims that despite dropping EPEAT that it’s products are as green as ever. The Loop quotes Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet as saying:

“Apple takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, Energy Star 5.2, [...] We also lead the industry by reporting each product’s greenhouse gas emissions on our website, and Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials.”

It’s true that while Apple may no longer be EPEAT certified, it still provides carbon footprint reports about all of the components in its devices. It would seem that although Apple is no longer interested in making their computers easily repairable — and, in turn, recyclable — it is still making some effort to be “green.” Just how you define that is a little tricky.

Butr then remember this article - "Just when Apple was starting to draw praise from environmental groups in the U.S., a new report focused on its supply chain is pointing more fingers. A group of Chinese nongovernmental agencies issued a report that accuses Apple and other IT companies of working with suppliers that have used chemicals that have made their workers sick. In a ranking of 29 tech companies on the environmental aspects of their supply chains, Apple came in dead last."

While the loss of San Francisco, which is in Apple’s backyard, is something of a moral blow it is unlikely to affect the company’s bottom line. In their report, the WSJ says that San Fran spent a mere $45,579 on Apple products in 2010. If, however, other organizations — particularly, universities — decide to shirk Apple products as well, the company might take notice. Unless, of course, Apple thinks they can convince everyone to just give up on the standard they helped create.

 

References:

http://www.geekosystem.com/apple-epeat-fallout/
http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2012/07/10/san-francisco-officials-plan-to-block-apple-procurement/
http://business-news.thestreet.com/mercury-news/story/apples-withdrawal-green-certification-program-surprises-purchasers/1
http://www.itworld.com/it-managementstrategy/285475/apple-shuns-epeat-green-cash-trumps-environment?source=ITWNLE_nlt_greenit_2012-07-12
http://www.epeat.net/
http://www.ucanews.com/2012/07/12/city-council-wont-buy-apple-because-it-says-its-not-green/
http://gigaom.com/cleantech/report-apples-supply-chain-not-so-green-after-all/

 

 

 

 

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