Apple has withdrawn itself from a program granting environmentally friendly certification to electronic products. According to CNET, it was late last month that Apple announced that it would no longer submit its devices to the nonprofit EPEAT group for green certification and that it was also withdrawing its currently certified products from the organization’s registry.
The Environmental Protection Agency helps to fund EPEAT, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool. EPEAT describes itself as “the leading global environmental rating system for electronic products, connecting purchasers to environmentally preferable choices and benefiting producers who demonstrate environmental responsibility and innovation.” An EPEAT seal means that, as Joel Schechtman writes on the the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal, a product is “recyclable and designed to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental harm.”
Apple actually played a part in creating EPEAT’s standards along with other manufacturers, advocacy groups and government agencies. The US government now requires that 95 percent of its electronics have EPEAT certification and major corporations including Ford, HSBC, and Kaiser Permanente require their CIOs to purchase products from manufacturers with EPEAT certification. Even more, many educational institutions — a market that Apple has taken care to cultivate — emphasize that their IT departments purchase from environmentally friendly corporations.
39 of Apple’s products, including the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air, had received EPEAT’s green certification. Apple (as revealed by a screenshot on CNET) has not hesitated to note the “EPEAT GoldStar” rating for its iMac computer. A review of Apple’s webpage about its environmental footprint suggests that the company feels it has much invested in showing its commitment to being environmentally responsible.
So why did Apple drop out from EPEAT?
The reason is the “design direction” for its products, as EPEAT CEO Robert Frisbee says in CIO Journal. To meet EPEAT’s standards, products need to be easy to take apart, so their components can be recycled. But such is not the case with Apple’s star products, the iPhone, the iPad and the new MacBook Pro with Retina display, as Schechtman explains:
One of Apple’s newest products, the MacBook Pro with a high-resolution “Retina” display, was nearly impossible to fully disassemble, said Kyle Wiens, co-founder of iFixit.com, a website that provides directions for users to repair their own machines. The battery was glued to the case, and the glass display was glued to its back. The product, released just a month ago, had not been submitted for EPEAT certification, according to the organization.
If battery is glued to the case, neither part can be recycled.
Schechtman also cites Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, who says that Apple’s intent is not to make it hard to open the cases of its devices. Rather, “they are just trying to pack as much as they can into a small space–it’s a design decision,” Wu notes. It is also a business decision, with consumers eager for smaller, thinner, lighter products.
Apple, as Wu also notes, will very likely soon devise an “alternate standard for its own products.” But should not consumers be wary of Apple using standards it creates to proclaim how environmentally friendly its own products are?
The word is out that a new, smaller, iPad Mini is in the works: How “green,” how recyclable, will this new device be?
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