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Larry Seltzer
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Apple Dares Green Advocates To Go Elsewhere

Apple's abandonment of EPEAT green product certification proves what was obvious in any case: that design is paramount to Apple and all else in conflict with it loses. This includes recyclability and repairability of products. The question is will the environmentally-conscious among us take our business elsewhere?

There are a lot of people in this world who profess to hold environmental protection as a core value. We're going to find out soon how sincere they really are.

It came out last week that Apple has withdrawn from the EPEAT certification program, which certifies products that are recyclable and designed to maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental harm. In late June, Apple requested that EPEAT--which stands for Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool--remove Apple products, old and new, from the list of certified products. Apple's manufacturing direction is taking it away from such guidelines.

Update: The WSJ's CIO Journal is reporting that the City of San Francisco government is planning to block procurement of Apple products because of their withdrawl from EPEAT.

We saw evidence of this coming recently when teardowns of the new MacBook Pros noted that extensive use of glue makes the device almost unrepairable and unrecyclable. In fact, not only is the battery glued strongly to the case, but the trackpad cable is beneath it, making that part unremovable as well. In fairness to Apple, it's probably just the leader here. I won't be surprised if everyone else moves to glue to lower cost and profile.

The issues of repairability and recyclability are intertwined: The less repairable a device is, the more likely it will be thrown out if it breaks. The less recyclable it is, the more likely it will end up in a landfill. One last downside--for us the buyers, not for producers like Apple--is that unrepairable devices pretty much eliminates the refurb market.

I recall watching the strident anti-corporate activists at Occupy Wall Street using their iPhones and figured they had to be smart enough to see the irony (if not hypocrisy) of being so reliant on a product of the richest corporation in the world, one made with, to put it kindly, controversial labor conditions. Apple's abandonment of any green priorities is one more finger in the eye of such people.

Pretty much all throughout its history Apple has stepped on its customers' interests and has expect them to put up with it. Especially in the last few years, it's a reasonable expectation. Why should Apple do anything to compromise its design goals? It's the design that sells the products, not the fact that it can be taken apart and put back together.

As the Wall Street Journal article above notes, there are many organizations, generally government-connected, which use EPEAT as a requirement in some purchasing. This executive order, signed by President Obama in 2009, ensures "procurement preference for EPEAT-registered electronic products." This is going to be most inconvenient, but I think we can expect to see waivers of those policies become more common, although the policy will remain so as to show how seriously the organization takes its environmental obligations.

In the end, other vendors might end up going the same way. At that point a principled environmentalist might lose the option of buying new products. This is where we see principles really tested in the modern world. We might be willing to compost and keep our own chickens, but use an old and unsupported phone?

Probably unthinkable.

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