In their rush to be the first to tweet the sensational "San Francisco Bans Apple Computers" headline, several reputable news sources including the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Huffington Post* and countless tech blogs wrote this week that the city would be banning or completely boycotting the purchase of Apple products now that the company has pulled their computers from the standard rating system for green electronics. Except it's not quite like that.
First, allow Gizmodo to explain what the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, certification means for Apple:
The purpose of EPEAT is to lessen the negative environmental impact of making electronics by requiring companies to meet eight different environmental-focused categories like a product's lifetime, toxic materials, recyclability, etc. It's a good thing. And it's a pretty big thing that Apple doesn't care about EPEAT anymore because all of its computers since 2007 have been EPEAT Gold Certified.
So, yes, the certification thing is a big deal for the company, which has pushed a green image in recent years. But as with all things Apple, the change in attitude comes after a change in design: When the company unveiled their latest MacBook Pro with a Retina Display, they also unveiled a less environmentally friendly product. The battery in the latest model is unfortunately glued to the case — making it near impossible for regular recyclers to separate the battery from the recyclable housing. Rather than only removing the newest model, Apple has pulled all 39 of their computers. (EPEAT doesn't cover tables to iPads and iPhones aren't included here.)
Many cities, government offices, schools and universities — including the city of San Francisco — require that their computer purchases be meet EPEAT's benchmark of environmental friendliness. So, Apple's withdrawal of 39 computers from EPEAT means many of those agencies won't get their Mac purchases approved by the IT Department too easily.
As Melanie Nutter, Director of San Francisco's Department of the Environment told WSJ yesterday, the city was "disappointed that Apple chose to withdraw from EPEAT, and we hope that the city saying it will not buy Apple products will make Apple reconsider its participation.” Likewise, the city's Chief Information Officer Jon Walton explained city agencies would only be getting Apple computers if they went though a "long" and "onerous" waiver process.
However, in a statement released late Wednesday, Nutter clarified her language on the Cupertino company's choice to remove themselves from EPEAT:
There is no ban or boycott in place in San Francisco on Apple products and none is being considered.
San Francisco Department of the Environment assists in implementing the City's green purchasing ordinance. The City has a 2009 policy that requires computers, laptops and monitors purchased by the City to be EPEAT Gold.
San Francisco's City Purchaser will be issuing a letter to remind city agencies about the City's technology purchasing policies.
We are reaching out to understand why Apple decided to withdraw its participation from the EPEAT ecolabel program for computers and hope they will reconsider.
As for getting Cupertino to reconsider certification: all those negative headlines will probably have a bigger impact than the City of San Francisco's purchasing power. According to estimates from city CIO Walton, only something like 500-700 or 1-2% of city-owned computers are Macs. In 2010, the city spent under $46,000 on Macs out of a total $3.8 million budget for computers and laptops — and 46 grand is just a drop in the bucket compared to what the big tech companies like Twitter and Zynga are likely to plunk down on new hardware in a year, even if the new MacBook Pro is the Hummer of laptops.
*Note: A few of those sources have updated their headlines to reflect the new language in Nutter's statement.