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Apple ditches EPEAT green standard, then rejoins amid heavy criticism

In a rather surprising move Apple, the computer manufacturer, decided to pull out its entire line of around 40 products from the EPEAT green certification registry last month. According to anonymous sources within the company, Apple no longer wanted their computers to be EPEAT certified because Apple’s new "design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements".

Apparently the problem lies with Apple's new MacBook Pro laptop with Retina Display. The people over at iFixit found the new MacBook to be extremely difficult to disassemble. By using proprietary pentalobe screws (among other things) and gluing the laptop's battery cells to the aluminum shell, Apple has managed to make the new MacBook even thinner than before. But as iFixit notes, this makes it harder, almost impossible, to recycle the case and other parts of the computer. As a consequence the new MacBook computer earned only 1 out of 10 points in repairability, the lowest score ever on iFixit. So the new Apple computers slim design comes at a price, namely recyclability and repairability.

One of the many criteria that EPEAT uses to score products includes the ease of disassembly. And because the new MacBook computers are completely unserviceable and almost non-recyclable, Apple would most likely have lost the gold rating on the EPEAT registry.

"In order to meet the standards, recyclers need to be able to easily disassemble products, with common tools, to separate toxic components, like batteries. The standards were created jointly by manufacturers, including Apple, advocacy groups and government agencies," Joel Schectman writes.

So instead of losing face, and a gold star, Apple decided it would just be better to simply pull out form the EPEAT certification registry. In the days following this decision Apple received massive criticism from ordinary consumers and environmental organizations.

"Apple is pulling out of EPEAT so it can make some products in a way that's less recyclable," said David Pomerantz from Greenpeace. "In doing so, Apple is pitting design against the environment, and choosing design as the priority. That's a false choice, and Apple should know better," he said.

Kyle Wiens, from iFixit, said in a blog post that "the EPEAT standard is common sense", and that "Apple's decision to opt out of the most basic of eco-standards demonstrates that, despite the costs, design supersedes the environment."

The massive criticism had an effect on Apple. Only days later, Bob Mansfield, who is the Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering at Apple, wrote in a letter on the Apple website that it was a "mistake" to pull out from the EPEAT registry and that "many loyal customers" had been disappointed with the move. But Mansfield continued the public letter by reiterate Apple's green credentials:

"It's important to know that our commitment to protecting the environment has never changed, and today it is as strong as ever. Apple makes the most environmentally responsible products in our industry. In fact, our engineering teams have worked incredibly hard over the years to make our products even more environmentally friendly, and much of our progress has come in areas not yet measured by EPEAT."

Mansfield went on to highlight other green areas in which Apple has made progress on. For example that Apple is the only computer manufacturer to report greenhouse gas emissions for each of their products. He also mentioned that each of its products exceeds the government-standard Energy Star 5.2 rating. "No one else in our industry can make that claim," said Mansfield.

While public outcry probably played a large part in Apple's decision to backtrack and return to the EPEAT green certification registry once again, a bigger reason might have been that Apple's seemingly unpopular decision also could have had a rather serious economic impact for the company.

Since 2007 all federal agencies in the US are required to conform to the EPEAT standards when purchasing new computer systems. That would have meant that no federal agency would be able to purchase desktops, laptops or any other products from Apple. Shortly after Apple's decision to leave the EPEAT, San Francisco's Department of Environment told CIO Journal that the city would not purchase any more Apple computers. Jon Walton, San Francisco's chief information officer, said that "it's going to be very problematic to procure Apple products."

And it's not just federal agencies that would not be able to buy any more Apple products. Many schools and universities have over the years introduced tough environmental standards for their IT-departments forcing them to only buy EPEAT-certified computers. Many American corporations also require their CIOs to purchase computers from sources that are EPEAT certified.

Either way, it doesn't matter what pushed Apple into returning to the EPEAT certification registry. The good thing is that they are back, at least with some of its products. But that won't change the fact that the new Apple computers are impossible to repair and recycle - making it hard for the environmental conscious consumer to purchase them.

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