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San Francisco to Ban Purchase of Apple Computers

Tech Company's Decision to Opt Out of Green Certification Scheme a Bad Public Relations Move

The City of San Francisco has decided to ban purchases of Apple computers (desktops and laptops) for all official departments and agencies after news broke that the Cupertino-based company had pulled all 39 of its laptops, monitors and desktop computers out of a green certification scheme called EPAT.

worm in the apple Photo by Flickr user i.hoffman

EPEAT, or Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, is a voluntary program that companies have to pay to subscribe to. It requires electronic products to meet certain environmental-friendly manufacturing practices such as using recyclable product components and packaging material. EPEAT is used by hundreds of companies, universities and government agencies in dozens of countries, including the US Federal government which require that 95 percent of the electronics purchased for official use be EPEAT certified. This means federal agencies too, will no longer be able to buy Apple computers and monitors (ipad and iphones are exempt from the certification requirement). Many other state governments and top educational institutions like UC Berkeley and Cornell University, that require their electronic products to be EPEAT certified, may also have to drop Apple products.

But so far, the City of San Francisco, whose decision was initially reported by the Wall Street Journal’s CIO Journal, has been the first to make a public announcement to this effect.

Now the city’s investment in Apple products may not have been much. The Wall Street Journal reports that San Francisco spent only $45,579 on Apple desktops, laptops, and iPads in 2010 — a drop in the bucket for a company whose profits run in the billions. It is more of a symbolic move.  But the quick response to the company’s decision is to be appreciated. And if other states and educational institutions follow suit, well, it’s going to be further bad news for Apple.

Over at Treehugger.com Megan Treacy explains what might have prompted the decision.

"One major requirement for EPEAT certification is that a product must be easily disassembled with common tools for recycling. As we reported at the time, iFixit.com found the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display to be almost impossible to disassemble, which is necessary for both repair and recycling. Instead of using screws, Apple is now using industrial-strength glue to hold the battery and screen in place."

In other words, the company's products might be getting snazzier by the day, but they are also getting harder to recycle.

The company, of course, is now on the defensive. An Apple spokeswoman told Bloomberg News that Apple products “are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials" and that all their products met “the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, energy star 5.2.”

Even if that’s the case, fact is, this latest decision by the company known for it’s high-tech products and sleek design, is a bad public relations move. Apple Inc has taken quite some bruising recently what with the Foxconn labor controversy and an April Greenpeace report that chastised it for still relying heavily on coal power (a claim Apple contested).

Maureen Nandini Mitra, Managing Editor, Earth Island Journal.Maureen Nandini Mitra photo
In addition to her work at the Journal, Maureen writes for several other magazines and online publications in the US and India. A journalism graduate from Columbia University, her work has appeared in the San Francisco Public Press, The New Internationalist, Sueddeutsche Zeitung, The Caravan and Down to Earth.

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