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Apple's EPEAT withdrawal raises recycling, disassembly concerns

Agam Shah | July 11, 2012
Apple's decision to withdraw products from the EPEAT standard it helped implement has raised concerns among industry observers and environmentalists, who said the design of the company's new products, including the Retina display, make laptops difficult to disassemble and recycle.

Apple's business now revolves around tablets and smartphones, with products like the iPad and iPhone generating a large chunk of revenue. EPEAT covers only computers and not smartphones and tablets, so Apple perhaps is taking a practical approach and made a financial decision to cut EPEAT, observers said. And like the environmental organizations, Apple was perhaps frustrated with the EPEAT process.

Apple's dropping EPEAT will hurt its business with the U.S. government, which requires 95 percent of its PC purchases to be EPEAT registered. There was also immediate fallout as word of Apple's decision spread, with San Francisco telling The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that the city's 50 agencies would not purchase Apple's Mac products that were no longer EPEAT certified.

Apple has a larger business with consumers and educational organizations and makes money in iPhones and iPad, so dropping EPEAT could cut component costs and provide a path for the company to move forward with homegrown device designs, said Roger Kay, principal analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates. Apple likely realized it was going to lose U.S. government business, but that's perhaps a gamble the company was willing to take.

"It's a business decision that Apple made and they've certainly done the math," Kay said.

Apple could take a public-relations hit by dropping EPEAT, but the company is also a trendsetter, Kay said. Apple would rather be a maverick and buck the trend than being conventional and sticking to standards, Kay said.

"Maybe the standard needs revision," Kay said, adding that it remains to be seen if Apple will help set a new standard. EPEAT was last updated in 2009 and is due for an upgrade later this year.

Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Representatives from Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo and Dell said they will continue to back EPEAT.

But John Samborski, the CEO of Ace Computers, which backs EPEAT, said the standard is up to date, and is gaining popularity among government organizations and select educational organizations.

"I think the reason Apple is dropping it is that they don't need it for their customer base and their unique nature of their products. It also constrains their supplier to use only certified components and this might be more expensive," Samborski said.


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