San Francisco Blocks Mac Purchases After Apple EPEAT Pull Out

The city of San Francisco has moved to block the purchase of Apple’s Mac computers after the Cupertino company withdrew its computers from the EPEAT environmental certification process. The San Francisco Department of Environment told The Wall Street Journal that it will be sending letters to all 50 of the city’s agencies with the news that Apple’s Macs no longer qualify for purchases using city funds.


EPEAT is an environmental organization that certifies products based on their recyclability, among other criteria. Apple was one of the founding companies that established those criteria in 2006, and EPEAT certification is now required for purchases by some institutions, including cities like San Francisco.

The news that Apple had pulled its Mac products from EPEAT consideration broke over the weekend, after Apple asked the organization to withdraw the 39 Mac products that had already been certified. Apple hasn’t explained why it made the move, but speculation is that the company’s new MacBook Pro with Retina Display wouldn’t earn certification because its battery is glued to the case, making it more difficult to recycle.

Rather than deal with one of its products not earning certification, Apple apparently decided to take all of its toys and go home. EPEAT officials have said that Apple told them that the company’s, “design direction was no longer consistent with EPEAT requirements.”

The news coming out of San Francisco, which is effectively Apple’s back yard, marks the first known fallout from Apple’s EPEAT pull out. That said, it may not be as devastating as the city’s environmental officials are hoping.

“We are disappointed that Apple chose to withdraw from EPEAT,” Melanie Nutter, director of San Francisco’s Department of Environment, told The Journal. “And we hope that the city saying it will not buy Apple products will make Apple reconsider its participation.”

The problem is that although Macs are very, very popular among San Francisco’s techie population, the city itself doesn’t actually purchase that many Apple devices. San Francisco’s chief information officer, Jon Walton, estimated that there are between 500-700 Macs owned by the city, and that’s just 1-2 percent of the city’s total computer footprint.

In 2010, San Francisco only spent US$45,579 on Apple products, making the city’s stick a very tiny one if it wants to intimidate Apple into modifying its behavior. The city’s total desktop and laptop budget was $3.8 million in 2010.

“Is there some significance? Yes. Major significance? No,” analyst Michael Gartenberg told The Journal. “Given the relatively small percentage [of organizations] that require 100 percent EPEAT-compliance, it’s not going to make a whole lot of difference to Apple.”

Which could be why Apple made this decision, even though it helped establish EPEAT’s criteria six years ago. EPEAT certification is good, but there aren’t very many institutions that require 100 percent compliance. Clearly Apple believes that increased sales from design decisions made possible by gluing batteries to the case trump sales lost to the lack of EPEAT certification.

There’s one more important element, too: EPEAT does not yet certify smartphone or tablets. That means that cities like San Francisco can continue to buy iPads and smartphones without technically violating their own mandates for EPEAT certification. Apple’s Mac business brings in billions of dollars in annual revenue, but the company’s iPhone and iPad business represents a far larger percentage of the company’s business.