Apple caused a minor uproar in the environmental world this past July when it announced that it was withdrawing its products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry, the biggest electronics standards group in the U.S. This was a big deal because EPEAT certification means that a product is energy efficient, easy to take apart, and recyclable. By withdrawing, Apple was signaling that one (or some) of these things might be an issue in its products, and that it didn’t care enough to fix it. Prior to this, Apple had all of its new electronics EPEAT Gold Certified.
The product in question was the new Macbook Pro with Retina display, a gorgeous specimen of computer that is reportedly difficult to take apart (DIY repair website iFixIt said it has "a whole mess of pretty, yet difficult to access components" and gave the computer its lowest reparability score ever).
After feeling the heat of the environmental community, Apple quickly backed down and put its products back in the registry. And this week, EPEAT officially approved the new MacBook Pro, telling InformationWeek that it investigated "the lightest and thinnest of the manufacturers’ products."
But while EPEAT claims that the new MacBook Pro (and other ultrathin notebooks from different manufacturers) can be disassembled in 20 minutes, Greenpeace is still angry about the approval. "Apple wanted to change the EPEAT standards when it knew its MacBook Pro with Retina Display would likely not qualify for the registry in July of this year—now EPEAT has reinterpreted its rules to include the MacBook Pro and ultrabooks," said Greenpeace IT analyst Casey Harrell in a statement. "Consumers will not risk violating their product warranty to change a battery using instructions they don’t have with tools they don’t own, and are sure to conclude that the entire process is too complicated and instead buy a new product. The result will be electronics with a shorter lifespan and more e-waste."
That’s a powerful accusation, especially considering that consumers already tend to switch out electronic devices rapidly—a habit encouraged by Apple and its constant product turnover. As ultrathin notebooks become more popular, we’ll quickly find out if it’s true.