Apple quits green IT program, putting government sales at risk

Apple has withdrawn its desktop and notebook PCs from a green-computing certification program the federal government and many other organizations follow for electronics purchases, after it was shown that the laptops’ internal designs prevent them from being recycled.

The Green Electronics Council announced late last month that Apple had pulled its products, which also included monitors, from the council’s Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool program.

The iPhone and iPad, which have been catching on in some government circles, are not affected by the move because at the moment there are no EPEAT standards for smart phones and tablets.

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The Federal Acquisition Regulations require that 95 percent of all agency equipment purchases meet EPEAT’s environmental standards, unless there is no EPEAT certification for that class of product. Many states, cities, educational institutions and major businesses -- thousands of organizations in all -- also follow EPEAT’s standards.

The reason for Apple’s withdrawal appears to lie with design elements that make devices smaller and lighter and extend battery life. The do-it-yourself repair site iFixit recently took apart a new MacBook Pro with Retina display and found that its lithium-polymer battery was glued to the frame. Testers were unable to remove the battery cell without risking puncturing it, which would release toxic materials.

Robert Frisbee, CEO of EPEAT, told the Wall Street Journal that design would prevent the MacBook Pro, which hadn’t been submitted yet to EPEAT, from being certified. “If the battery is glued to the case it means you can’t recycle the case and you can’t recycle the battery,” he said.

Apple subsequently pulled all 39 of the products it had registered with EPEAT, saying the company’s “design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements,” Frisbee told the Journal.

Apple, which does offer recycling through its stores, has been making a push into government and educations circles in recent years, though mostly with iPads and iPhones, which aren’t covered by EPEAT.

The Federal Aviation Administration, for example, is testing iPads for use by its mechanics and attorneys, and the Air Force in March signed a deal to buy up to 18,000 iPads to handle such things as flight manuals and navigation charts.

The Veterans Affairs Department, meanwhile, is expanding its iPad and iPhone pilot program and has said that there eventually could be as many as 100,000 iOS devices in the department.

And although Apple desktop and laptop computers were for a long time seen as consumer devices, they, too, have been making their way gradually into enterprises. A 2009 survey by Information Technology Intelligence Corp. of 700 organizations -- about 9 percent of them government --  found that 23 percent said that more than half of their desktop computers were Macs.

Shaw Wu, an analyst at Sterne Agee, told the Journal he expects Apple to create an alternate environmental standard for its products.

About the Author

Kevin McCaney is a former editor of Defense Systems and GCN.

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