EPEAT, a certification organization that evaluates the recyclability of electronic devices, said Friday that it has tested a series of ultrathin notebook computers from Apple, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba and found that they meet the group's environmental testing criteria.
The products investigated were "the lightest and thinnest of the manufacturers' products," a spokeswoman for the organization said in an email, confirming that the devices met EPEAT's disassembly standards. This appears to include both the MacBook Air and Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display model, though EPEAT's spokeswoman would not confirm this. "We can't name the products tested unless the manufacturers do so," she said.
Apple did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, Apple ended its participation in EPEAT's program. The reason was widely assumed to be that the company's recently introduced MacBook Pro with Retina display would fall short of EPEAT's certification criteria because some components were glued into place, making the device difficult to disassemble.
However, following public criticism, Apple published an open letter from hardware senior VP Bob Mansfield acknowledging that the decision to leave EPEAT was a mistake and stating that Apple had resumed submitting eligible products to the group for evaluation. Had Apple not reversed course, many institutional buyers that adhere to green computing standards would have been unable to purchase Apple products.
Devices that can be easily taken apart for maintenance, upgrades, or disassembly are considered to be more environmentally friendly than closed devices because they can be repaired when necessary and recycled when no longer useful.
iFixit, a website focused on device teardowns, gave the MacBook Pro with Retina display a repairability rating of 1 out of 10, its worst possible score.
While EPEAT's certification of ultrathin notebooks may hearten those who worry that the trend toward more compact device designs means less environmentally friendly products, Casey Harrell, senior IT analyst with Greenpeace International, in a phone interview urged an examination of "what EPEAT is trying to incentivize with its rankings and ratings and what real-life outcomes will come of it."
Harrell suggested that EPEAT's certification of devices that have glued-in components has more to do with redefining acceptable practices to accommodate vendors than with making more environmentally responsible products.
"We're disappointed to hear the focus on ways we can bend the IEEE standards to fit, when the reality is that a very small percentage of people will be able to upgrade [these] notebooks," said Harrell.
Harrell acknowledged that EPEAT can't be as ambitious in its goals as Greenpeace because EPEAT is designed for vendors. "With a guide inherently used for procurement, you can't give everyone a flunking grade," he said. "Otherwise, there wouldn't be enough products for your institutional buyers and they wouldn't write the [appropriate] language into their procurement contracts," he said.
Harrell argued that with typical device lifespans of 15 months for mobile phones and 24 months for computers, more needs to be done to keep devices operational. "We should be able to make it as easy as possible to extend the life of our products," he said.
Harrell pointed to Apple's iPhone 5 as a step in the right direction. "The iPhone 5 is a beauty to tear down, with the right screwdrivers," he said.