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Discontent Swells as Apple Ditches EPEAT Green Certification

DH Kass

July 11, 2012

4 Min Read
Discontent Swells as Apple Ditches EPEAT Green Certification

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) sparked a small firestorm yesterday when it removed its desktops and notebooks from the Electronics Product Environmental Assessment Tool, commonly known as EPEAT, a green, environmental certification jointly crafted by manufacturers (including Apple), government agencies and pro-environmentalists to promote energy efficient, easily recycled computer equipment.

CIO Journal‘s Joel Schectman reported that Apple pulled all 39 of its MacBooks and desktops from the EPEAT database. While Apple isn’t commenting about why it yanked its systems from the voluntary registry, Robert Frisbee, EPEAT chief executive is quoted in CIO Journal blaming changes to the computer maker’s “design direction.”

In addition to Apple, other computer makers including Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) and Hewlett-Packard (HP) (NYSE: HPQ) have had a hand in EPEAT, whose standards are commonly regarded as guidelines for environmentally friendly IT procurement by government agencies, cities, educational institutions and some businesses.

At this point, no one knows for sure why Apple backed away from EPEAT, but some of the speculation centers around the vendor’s new retina screen MacBook Pro, which would not have qualified for EPEAT certification, Frisbee told CIO Journal. The system’s battery is glued into the case, making recycling far more difficult. Still, there is no official word if Apple’s MacBook Pro would or wouldn’t have gained EPEAT certification.

Another source of conjecture concerning Apple’s motives is that EPEAT’s database doesn’t include smartphones or tablets, both of which produce high sales volume for the vendor.

EPEAT posted a message at its website saying that “Apple will no longer be registering its products in EPEAT. We hope that they will decide to do so again at some point in future.”

The San Jose Mercury News, among other outlets, reported that cities such as San Francisco no longer can purchase Apple computers because its rules for product procurement call for EPEAT certification.

The Mercury News quoted Chris Geiger, toxics reduction coordinator, City of San Francisco, as saying, “We strongly believe that eco-labels are essential for green purchasing, and Apple just withdrew from the list. We want to register our displeasure, and urge Apple to reconsider.”

“I don’t know why Apple would choose to go this route. It’s really bad for EPEAT and it’s really bad for anyone trying to do green purchasing,” Geiger added.

Jon Walton, San Francisco’s CIO, told CIO Journal that he no longer would allow Apple computer purchases. “It’s going to be very problematic to procure Apple products,” Walton said.

Ultimately, Apple’s move raises the larger question of the importance of green IT procurement standards going forward. To put in more bluntly, will this harm Apple, and might others follow Apple’s lead and abandon the standards if it suits them?

If other CIOs find themselves in situations where they, too, cannot purchase Apple equipment, and sales of the vendor’s computers slide among some city governments and educational institutions — settings in which Apple has a strong presence — the company’s decision may resonate further than it anticipates.

Already Cornell University and the University of California, Berkeley told CIO Journal that they are taking a second look at their Apple purchases based on the vendor’s statement of non-support for EPEAT. It may only take a drop or two more to rise a trickle into a flood that Apple ultimately regrets.

“In terms of purchasing power it’s just a drop in the bucket,” said Geiger. “But there are a lot of cities and counties who will do what San Francisco does.”

It’s too soon to know what impact, if any, Apple’s departure from EPEAT may have on its government-approved channel partners, which include CDWG, Gov Connection, Insight and PC Mall Gov. None have said anything about this flap, at least publicly. So far, we’re really not talking so much about big numbers here but rather the creeping potential for greater losses, and, if a large portion of Apple desktop and laptop sales to city governments and some educational institutions is lost to those partners, it wouldn’t be surprising to see them turn to EPEAT-compliant vendors such as Dell and HP for new opportunities.

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About the Author(s)

DH Kass

Senior Contributing Blogger, The VAR Guy

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