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What’s next for Apple and EPEAT?

Apple’s(s aapl) decision to remove its products from the EPA-funded EPEAT standards was likely intended to be a quiet move. It wasn’t. When you’re the most influential tech company out there, anything you do is going to come under scrutiny. So in no time at all, Apple found the City of San Francisco saying it intended to stop buying Macs if they weren’t ranked by the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool.

Apple’s position since the story broke has been that it follows plenty of other green standards, which it does lay out clearly on its website. But the reaction from the City of SF provoked a longer statement from Apple on Tuesday, essentially repeating the same idea, but in more detail. For Apple’s thoughts, see The Loop.

It’s very true that Apple has made an effort to keep dangerous chemicals out of its products. And that is likely satisfactory to a lot of individual consumers. But that doesn’t address the recycling question. The move signals that future MacBooks that won’t be EPEAT certified — therefore will not be as recyclable by individuals — and will theoretically still end up in a landfill some day. And e-waste is e-waste — it still needs to be dealt with. More crucially for businesses, Apple’s statement doesn’t address the standards issue, which government purchasing departments and corporate IT buyers still have to adhere to — many are required to buy EPEAT-certified computers.

So what is Apple up to? Well, the company might actually be cooking up a solution by contributing to a future recycling standard that is more up to date. The Green Electronics Council that administers EPEAT certification said that it’s been trying to update its standards to fit how today’s electronics are manufactured. The group’s spokeswoman told Fortune that a group including Apple has “just delivered reports on a number of preliminary questions which will inform the IEEE 1680.1 standard refresh process, expected to launch shortly.”

Does this mean Apple will buy back into EPEAT if a new standard fits its design priorities and environmental goals? I guess we’ll have to see.

7 Responses to “What’s next for Apple and EPEAT?”

  1. Michael W. Perry

    I less concerned about what Apple’d bailing out of EPEAT means for end-of-life recycling than what it may signal for the repairability and upgradability of their upcoming devices. Is the new, repair-and-replace-hostile MacBook Pro the future of Apple? I fear it is.

    Although I’m more concerned about the lifetime cost of ownership, devices that can be fixed and upgraded also last longer before needing to be recycled. (A doubled life, means the environmental impact is halved.)

    Nor does Apple help users with their ‘more is much more’ pricing scheme. One reason I didn’t buy the new MacBook Air is because the now-enlarged 4 Gig of memory still isn’t likely to be adequate for whatever follows Snow Leopard. If Apple isn’t going to make memory upgradable, then it has an obligation to users to make their more-memory option affordable. It doesn’t.

    In the end, I suspect Apple’s creative and manufacturing design teams are simply growing lazy. It’s easy when designing a product to focus on a few features (i.e. thinness) to the exclusion of others (i.e. repair and upgrade). But narrowly focused design is always bad design. Good designers are able to hit multiple goals.

    One reason I’m staying with my aging white MacBook is that it’s design was done right. The RAM and hard drive can be replaced in about five minutes. That’s how I was able to upgrade it to an SSD a few months back. I don’t see that sort of brilliant design in Apple’s current laptops.

    In the case of the MacBook Air, for instance, there’s too much emphasis on lightness and thinness over battery life and upgradability. Apple products are starting to take on the odd appearance of a body builder who strengthens the right side of his body while leaving the left untouched.

  2. Apple is not “the most influential tech company”. That’s an extremely bold statement, which demands figures to back it up. Some explanation of exactly what this means would be nice, too.

    Apple’s corporate marketing and subversive political lobbying is arguably the most effective in history, if that’s what this means.

    • Gadget69

      Apple is THE most influential tech company. Besides being the most profitable, it has turned at least three industries upside down (music, phone, tablet). All the other companies look at Apple who are leaders in these industries. I would consider that pretty influential.

  3. “The company might actually be cooking up a solution by contributing to a future recycling standard that is more up to date.”

    Apple being Apple, I suspect that’s what’s happening. They like to push the technology.

  4. So essentially, Apple are trying to move the goalposts to meet their own needs.

    With Apple making devices which are starting to become throw away commodities, being able to recycle these products is even more important.