After establishing itself as an environmental leader among consumer electronics companies, Apple's abrupt withdrawal from a prominent green-product registry has set off a furor in the blogosphere and could modestly cut into the company's computer sales.
Apple's decision may be tied to the design of the new MacBook Pros, which have batteries glued into the case and can't be disassembled for recycling -- a violation of the green certification standards of EPEAT, a nonprofit product-rating group backed by many manufacturers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
"I've had some conversations, and Apple has said that their design direction is not compatible with EPEAT standards," said Robert Frisbee, the group's chief executive. "It's kind of odd since they've helped design" the standards.
Greenpeace spokesman Casey Harrell said Apple "has pitted design against the environment -- and chosen design. They're making a big bet that people don't care, but recycling is a big issue."
Harrell described Apple's withdrawal from EPEAT as "unfortunate," noting that Apple in the past has introduced eco-friendly design features such as using aluminum instead of plastic in the casings of their products, which makes recycling easier.
Apple has often boasted that its computers and laptops achieve "gold ratings" from EPEAT on its environmental reports. Its withdrawal will eliminate numerous products -- 39 laptops, desktop computers and monitors -- from the well-known green registry.
Apple's decision has flummoxed cities like San Francisco, which can no longer buy Apple computers because its procurement rules require EPEAT approval.
"I don't know why Apple would choose to go this route. It's really bad for EPEAT and it's really bad for anyone trying to do green purchasing," said Chris Geiger, the city of San Francisco's toxics reduction coordinator. "We strongly believe that eco-labels are essential for green purchasing, and Apple just withdrew from the list. We want to register our displeasure, and urge Apple to reconsider."
To meet EPEAT standards, products must be easy to disassemble into separate components by recyclers. Companies like Apple, Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Samsung participated in developing the organization's standards, and EPEAT's registry of products has long been a green procurement guide for the federal government, cities, large corporations and colleges and universities.
Apple has offered no explanation for why it would glue the batteries into the new MacBook Pros or in other ways make its products difficult to disassemble, but the company has a long history of designing products to discourage tinkering by their users.