How Apple's withdrawal from green registry affects purchasers

How Apple's withdrawal from green registry affects purchasers

Apple's withdrawal from the EPEAT green electronics registry late last week came as a shock not only because the move was unexplained, but also because Apple helped craft the very system it has now left.

When pulling out of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool registry that rates laptops, desktops and monitors based on their energy use, toxics and recyclability, Apple took 39 products off the table for companies, governments and schools that follow environmental procurement policies.

"They were already registered. They meet the standard," said Sarah O’Brien, EPEAT's director of outreach and communications, on Tuesday. "From the purchaser standpoint, it's a little bit problematic when they were already buying those products."

How much Apple's departure from the registry cuts into its sales is yet to be seen. While most -- if not all -- environmental purchasing polices for electronics cite EPEAT, many also allow some leeway. The federal government, for example, allows 5 percent of its electronics purchases to be non-EPEAT.

Health care IT provider McKesson also allows a tiny sliver - less than 1 percent - of its electronics purchases to be non-EPEAT. But because the company currently buys fewer than 100 Apple products a year, Apple's removal from EPEAT won't affect McKesson at all, said Debbie Vaughan, the company's IT sourcing manager.

Others don't have that leeway or are deciding not to use it. The city of San Francisco's Department of the Environment has already told city agencies they can no longer buy Apple products.

The products Apple took off the registry aren't being changed, as far as the public knows. They will just no longer carry the EPEAT label.

Speculation over why Apple left EPEAT has centered on the new MacBook Pros, which have batteries that are glued in place, preventing easy disassembly and recycling, a cornerstone of EPEAT's policies.

"I've had some conversations, and Apple has said that their design direction is not compatible with EPEAT standards," EPEAT's CEO, Robert Frisbee, told the San Jose Mercury News.

Apple was reluctant in the past to make design changes that would benefit the environment, such as removing certain chemicals from wires or screens, or even talk about the environmental aspects of its products, but now it boasts of the energy efficiency of its goods, the heightened recyclability of its aluminum-body products and how many toxics it has taken out of its products.

The company’s reasons for gluing batteries into its new MacBook Pro computer have not been made clear, but again speculation says it’s to prevent consumers or competitors from dismantling and fiddling with its products.

Photo of Apple store logo in New York City provided by Songquan Deng via Shutterstock

Without any further word from Apple on why it left EPEAT and its plans for the future, purchasers are left with the options of sticking with the products still on the EPEAT registry or altering their procurement policies if they want to keep buying Apple goods. 

"I've been hearing from (purchasers) that they're troubled because they feel they have a requirement in place, they want to follow that requirement and now Apple has placed itself outside of that purchasing scope," O'Brien said.

She said it's unlikely companies would alter their purchasing polices wholesale for one supplier. If anything, Apple's removal from EPEAT could leave a gap for the many other manufacturers on the registry to fill.

Although the news has gained a big buzz because of Apple's prominence, it isn't likely to cut into the clout EPEAT carries. Other major electronics players like Dell and HP also helped created the EPEAT standards and system, and the registry has more than 2,000 products on it.

Right now the registry holds more than 870 notebook computers, 780 monitors and 200 desktop computers. That still leaves plenty of EPEAT products for purchasers to choose from.

EPEAT is also in the midst of setting standards for copiers, printers and televisions, and is also working more with organizations and purchasers in China.

"For us, (Apple's withdrawal) is unfortunate," O'Brien said, "We're obviously not happy to see Apple distance themselves from us, but we've got a lot on the agenda."

Apple did not respond to a request for comment.