The city of San Francisco has announced that it will no longer purchase Apple products after the company withdrew itself from a program granting environmentally friendly certification to electronic products. “We are disappointed that Apple chose to withdraw from EPEAT and we hope that the city saying it will not buy Apple products will make Apple reconsider its participation,” Melanie Nutter, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment, told Joel Schechtman on the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal.
Late last month, Apple announced that it would no longer submit its devices to the nonprofit EPEAT group for green certification. EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, receives funding from the Environmental Protection Agency; products with EPEAT’s “green certification” are recyclable and designed to do minimal harm to the environment and to maximize energy efficiency.
On today’s CNET, Dara Kerr says that Apple has responded to the criticism. Apple cites its own “rigorous environmental standards” for ensuring that its products are green; as the company tells The Loop, its own standards are not those used by EPEAT. Referring to its webpage about its environmental footprint, Apple spokesperson Kristin Huguet noted that Apple “leads the industry” in reporting greenhouse gas emissions via its website.
But as Kerr observes, EPEAT’s green certification is looking at somewhat different factors:
EPEAT, however, focuses on hardware recycling rather than measuring toxins and carbon emissions. Recycling is a big deal in the computer world because so many components are noxious and often end up in landfills. In order to get EPEAT certified, companies have to make products that recyclers can easily disassemble and separate dangerous components, like batteries.
The iPhone, the iPad and the new MacBook Pro with Retina display cannot be readily taken apart as their components are glued together..
Schechtman of CIO Journal points out that San Francisco’s decision not to purchase Apple’s not so green products will most likely be of minimal financial impact to the company.
The move by city officials is largely symbolic. Only around 500-700, or 1%-2% total, of municipal computers are Macs, [San Francisco’s chief information officer, Jon] Walton estimated. In 2010, the last year for which the city has complete reports, the city spent $45,579 on Apple desktops, laptops and iPads (the last of which are not certifiable under EPEAT and would not be barred by the city’s policy.) That’s compared to a total of $3.8 million spent overall on desktops and laptops, in 2010.
But the symbolic impact could still be costly. IT officials at Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley, have told Schechtman they are considering whether or not to keep purchasing Apple products. Chris Geiger, manager of green purchasing at San Francisco’s Department of Environment, also notes that San Francisco is “prominent in environmental circles, and many local governments from around the country look to his office for guidance on green purchasing.” Many cities and counties will follow what San Francisco does, says Geiger.
Colin Gillis, senior technology analyst at BGC Partners, tells the BBC that Apple is simply taking its long-term interests, especially as these relate to design, into account.
But design can be environmentally responsible and sustainable. Given the financial position Apple is in thanks to the immense popularity of its products, and due to its stated commitment to the environment, the company can do better. We consumers need to remind Apple that it must and that it can.
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Photo of Apple store on Stockton Street in San Francisco by John Pastor