According to Apple’s bottom line, no EPEAT certification, no problem!

apple loses epeat certificationConsidering that I’m continually scanning the latest tech news via my web of RSS feeds, the fact that I first heard through social networks about Apple’s decision to pull its products from EPEAT registration shows how deep of a chord the decision struck with everyday people.

“Who needs to #boycottapple when they’re boycotting themselves from government and large corporate sales?” Trevor Foster (and several others) asked on Google+.

“OMG WHAT ABOUT THE EARTH THINK OF THE WHALES!!1!” a thousand eco-friendly Tweeters wailed in unison.

Emotional social networkers, I’m sorry to break your fanatical hearts, but Apple’s decision to yank the government-backed environmental certification won’t affect the company’s sales. In fact, the decision to pull EPEAT certification will probably put even more money into Apple’s already-stuffed pockets.

And yes, Apple’s still thinking about the whales, too.

Why EPEAT doesn’t matter to Apple

At first blush, pulling its notebooks and desktop PCs from EPEAT’s list of environmentally friendly products seems like an incredibly silly choice for Apple: Several corporations require their electronics purchases to be EPEAT certified as part of larger Green initiatives.

Executive Order 13423 (PDF) says, “95% of electronic products purchased [by the federal government] must meet Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) standards where applicable.”

How could Apple kill those cash cows?

Simple. Apple’s sales to government agencies are comparatively paltry, and the company has a couple of Trojan Horses for worming itself into federal and enterprise applications, anyway.

The most recent numbers I could find for Apple’s government sales come from Bloomberg Businessweek, which dredged through accounting reports and found that in 2010, Apple sold $50.8 million in products to the federal government. That sounds like a lot, but it’s just a drip in the ocean for the most profitable technology company in the world, which had total sales of $65.2 billion – that’s billion with a “B” –- in the same time frame.

But what about city and state governments, which sometimes have separate EPEAT requirements of their own? Let’s look at the most public example. After Apple pulled its products from EPEAT, the city of San Francisco said it will no longer buy Macs or MacBooks. However, the city’s own chief information officer, Jon Walton, admitted to the Wall Street Journal that Macs represent only 1 percent to 2 percent of San Francisco’s total computer share.  Again, no great loss for Apple.

Executive Order 13423 says federal agencies only need to buy 95 percent of their electronics with EPEAT certifications “where applicable.” Tablets and smartphones are ineligible for EPEAT certification; so Apple-loving feds can still buy iPads and iPhones to their heart’s content. (We’re talking about the government; are you really surprised there are loopholes?) And iOS sales surpass Mac sales by a wide, wide margin.

OK, but what about the business world? A January report by Forrester estimated Apple enterprise sales of $19 billion in 2012. Won’t yanking EPEAT put those at risk? Nope, the research firm said the majority of that tally consists of devices employees dragged in and are part of the BYOD-craze sweeping the working world. IT’s consumerization will help Apple sneak into the office under the noses of established eco-restrictions.

Why did Apple withdraw from EPEAT?

No one outside of Apple knows for sure, and Apple ain’t talking other than to say that the company “takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact.”

Most people – yours truly included – think the problem lies in Apple’s vision of a thin-and-light MacBook Air-inspired future.

To earn an EPEAT certification, a product needs to disassemble fairly easily so the inner components can be recycled individually. That simply doesn’t happen in MacBook Airs or in the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display. As I’ve touched on before, to pack so much into a slim case, Apple makes those notebooks nearly impossible to repair or upgrade, complete with glued-in batteries and an LCD that can’t be separated from the display assembly.

That’s likely fine by Apple, though. By making their computers so difficult to pry apart, they’re encouraging buyers to either sign up for extended Apple Care and Apple Care+ service plans or simply buy a new Mac or Apple-installed battery when a problem occurs – which will probably create waaaaay more revenue for the company than lost EPEAT-related sales.

But what does all this mean for the environment?

Apple, recycling, and you

Probably very little, at least in the short term. Apple’s notebooks and desktops are just as Green today as they were yesterday; they just don’t have a certification saying so anymore.

That environmental friendliness probably is going to change as time goes on and Macs get even more compact. But Apple has long been devoted to reporting and reducing its carbon footprint, as you can see in the environment page on the Apple website. And its products are still all Energy-Star certified for power efficiency.

In fact, the loss of EPEAT registration may increase Apple’s admirable environmental numbers even more because the difficulty of disassembling and recycling a MacBook could lead to more users taking advantage of the company’s awesome recycling program.

Apple will take back any iProduct, Mac, PC or cellphone and either resell or recycle it. If the product is reusable, the company will even send you a gift card in exchange. The amount will be less than you’d get selling the device yourself on the second-hand market. But the procedure is hassle-free, and Apple and PowerOn (its contractor) will even handle the shipping charges.

Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple gets a slice of the resale value of devices sent via its recycling program, but that’s (maybe) beside the point. You still have an easy, no-cost way to recycle Apple products.

Much ado about nothing

So in conclusion, direct-government and enterprise Mac sales comprise a small portion of Apple’s revenue, iOS devices aren’t even EPEAT certifiable, consumers can still recycle Macs as easily as ever and Apple’s able to make the thinner, lighter PCs that customers want. All of this enables the company to make even greater profits thanks to increased user need for costly support services.

Ditching EPEAT seems like a no-brainer for Apple, doesn’t it?

UPDATE 7/13/12 2:51PM EST Well, maybe not; Apple just reversed course and announced it’s back on the EPEAT bandwagon.