Apple Shuns EPEAT: Green Cash Trumps Environment?

Why did Apple pull out of the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool registry, which measures a product's longevity? Because Apple wants you to buy a new computer every 18 months, says iFixit's Kyle Wiens.

Nothing gets past the sharp-eyed geeks at iFixit, a Web site that provides free repair manuals and advice forums. They tore down the new MacBook Pro with Retina last month and found that the battery was stuck to the case with industrial-strength glue, meaning you can't replace an old battery with a new one.

The MacBook Pro was also missing a gold certificate from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, a rating system for electronics that looks at various factors about a product's environmental impact, including longevity and recyclability.

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Turns out, Apple, which had been boasting for years that all its products are EPEAT gold certified, quietly pulled out of the EPEAT registry last month. Apple will reportedly eliminate 39 laptops, desktops and monitors from the registry. EPEAT doesn't include tablets and smartphones in its registry, but standards are being crafted.

The environment and recyclers aren't the only losers in Apple's about-face with EPEAT, either. Federal government entities are required to purchase products that meet green standards. All of this has created a furor in cities such as San Francisco that require EPEAT approval, reports Silicon Valley MercuryNews.com.

So why would Apple make the new MacBook Pro—a locked-down, non-upgradeable machine with a hefty price tag starting at $2,199—nearly impossible to replace the battery? After all, Apple has been a leader in producing environmentally friendly electronics products.

The clue lies in the life of a lithium battery. Every time you go through a charge cycle on, say, your iPhone, you'll permanently lose 30 seconds to a minute of battery capacity. Typically, you'll get 250 to 500 charge cycles before a lithium ion battery has outlived its usefulness. A non-replaceable MacBook battery means you will need to buy another computer rather than swap out the battery.

"Americans upgrade cell phones every 18 months now," says iFixit's Kyle Wiens. "If Apple can get us to buy a new computer every 18 months, they'd make a whole lot more money."

Wiens wasn't surprised to hear Apple withdrew from the EPEAT registry shortly after releasing the non-upgradeable MacBook Pro. The product will be a nightmare for recyclers, he says, and EPEAT probably would not have been able to give it a gold certificate anyway.

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It took iFixit two days to separate the casing from the battery in its MacBook Pro with Retina teardown. "After a lot of elbow grease, we were finally able to get them apart but punctured the battery, leaking hazardous goo all over," he says.

(Check out outdoor survivalist Bear Grylls showing how to start a fire by sticking the point of a knife into a cell phone's lithium battery.)

It remains to be seen whether or not Apple reverses course again. The iFixit crew, though, isn't holding its breath. Apple has made it harder to extend the life of its products, essentially choosing green cash over the green environment.

"Apple plans for obsolescence," Wiens says.

Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline and on Facebook. Email Tom at tkaneshige@cio.com

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