Apple has taken so much heat for its factories’ impact on local environments that the company is now taking concrete steps—like working with the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE), a Chinese environmentalist organization—to make changes. The company has also tried to be transparent about its environmental impact, even launching a website that goes into detail on each of the company’s products.
But Apple recently decided to take a disheartening step backwards: The company withdrew its products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry, the major electronics standards group in the U.S. An EPEAT certification signals that a product is recyclable, easy to disassemble, and energy efficient. Apple has had all of its new products EPEAT Gold Certified since 2007.
There are serious consequences for the move: 95% of electronics purchases by the U.S. government have to be EPEAT certified, and many companies have similar policies. The problem is that new Apple products simply don’t meet the requirements. Robert Frisbee, CEO of EPEAT, explained to the Wall Street Journal: “They said their design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements." We contacted Apple for comment, but have yet to hear back.
This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone tracking the rollout of Apple’s new MacBook Pro with the ultra-high resolution Retina display—a laptop that DIY repair website iFixIt gave its lowest repairability score ever, explaining that it has "a whole mess of pretty, yet difficult to access components." The device is smaller than its predecessors—a design decision that has made repairability more difficult.
Upon learning that Apple is withdrawing from EPEAT, iFixIt had this to say: "According to my EPEAT contacts, Apple’s mobile design direction is in conflict with the intended direction of the standard. Specifically, the standard lays out particular requirements for product 'disassemble-ability,' a very important consideration for recycling: 'External enclosures, chassis, and electronic subassemblies shall be removable with commonly available tools or by hand.' Electronics recyclers need to take out hazardous components such as batteries before sending computers through their shredders, because batteries can catch fire when punctured." The lack of disassemble-ability in the new MacBook Pro—specifically, the battery glued to the case—makes recycling impossible.
Apple does have its own recycling program, to its credit. And the Wall Street Journal claims that the electronics manufacturer is working on an alternate standard. But ultimately, Apple’s decision reflects the fact that its customers don’t care about environmental impact as long as they receive a well-designed product.
Think about it: Does this announcement make you any less likely to buy a MacBook or an iPhone? Apple is betting that it won’t.