Apple Admits Dropping EPEAT Eco Standard Was a Mistake

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Apple product releases are  delayed in the Mideast shortening the supported product life in this part of the world. Apple also practices planned obsolescence.

In an open letter to customers, Apple’s senior VP of hardware engineering admitted that it was a mistake to remove Apple products from the EPEAT environmental rating system. He writes:”We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system. I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.”

The Electronic Product and Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a voluntary environmental rating system for electronic products.  It was developed in 2003 as a collaborative effort between business, government and academic interests and helps define and measure such parameters as energy consumption, use of toxic materials, greenhouse gas emission, recycling efficiency and serviceability.

When Apple suddenly removed all of its iPhones, iPads and Macbooks from the EPEAT registry, it was the equivalent of an architectural firm suddenly saying it would would no longer look at LEED, BREEAM, Estidama or GSAS green building standards.  It went beyond mystifying, it was just plain stupid.  This isn’t just a green opinion, it was an immediate threat to Apple’s bottom line. When Apple dropped EPEAT, certain government agencies including the city of San Francisco and large companies such as Ford would stop buying Apple products.

Now that Apple has reversed its decision, anyone can search the EPEAT website and see some of the criteria which helped the 15 inch MacBook Pro earn a ‘Gold’ rating:

lego man fixing apple battery

Retina Display MacBooks “Designed for End of Life”

Apple gets 5 out of 5 points here but they were right about one thing, EPEAT doesn’t tell the whole green story.  Notice particularly criteria 4-3.1.3 Easy disassembly of external enclosure and 4.3.1.7 Molded/glued in metal eliminated or removable.

According to the experienced technicians at iFixit, the 2012 Macbook’s Pro’s display and battery are glued into the aluminum case rendering it virtually unfixable.  You can forget about replacing or upgrading the RAM or hard drive too.

The RAM is soldered to the motherboard and the hard drive does not use an industry standard SATA connector.  Notice also that iPods, iPads and  iPhones do not appear on the EPEAT website.  The current generation are even less serviceable than the MacBooks.

lego man fixing apple batteryRemember when batteries were replaceable?

Apple knows how to design serviceable products.  Last night I repaired the loose antenna inside my wife’s iPhone 3G using only a screwdriver, a suction cup and a bit of sticky tape.  My thirteen-year-old Apple Powerbook’s DVD drive, hard drive, RAM, battery, keyboard and individual keys can be replaced without any special tools.

Some lithium batteries only last about 300 charge cycles, less than a year of daily use.  So it is conceivable that my 1999 Powerbook will outlive these 2012 MacBooks.  Except that Apple recently obsoleted it with their iCloud service.  Software upgrades and cloud services should extend a device’s life, but Apple found a way for them to do the opposite.  Apple product releases are often delayed in the Mideast further shortening the supported product life in this part of the world.

Can a greenwashable standard keep my iDevice out of the iLandfill?

Apple topped Fortune magazine’s most respected company list for the past four years.  It has beautiful products and enviable market-share.  Sometimes it seems that Apple can do no wrong and yet they were not able to ignore even this weak environmental standard.  Perhaps there is a lesson here for all of us?

Consumers do care deeply about the environment and yet even the best available standard for green electronics overlooks the fact that the current generation of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks are designed to be disposable in as little as one year.

Apple may use green materials and contract with good product recyclers but think of the energy required to ship your device to Apple when a dead battery renders it useless.  Apple’s short-cycle planned-obsolescence violates the spirit of EPEAT standard, but they aren’t being evil.

Planned obsolescence is simply how Apple survives in our fast-paced economy where environmental standards are greenwashable and consumers are focused on “I” and “Now!”   Whether your next iDevice goes into a landfill or is recycled into a toilet seat, it is unlikely to have a long iLife unless consumers demand it.

Photo of Lego man fixing an iPhone by Brian Nitz
Photo of women with laptop via Shutterstock

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