According to the Wall Street Journal's Joel Schectman, Apple asked the standards group EPEAT to revoke certification for all of its computers and monitors. EPEAT gives electronics a "gold," "silver," or "bronze" rating depending on things like how many toxic chemicals are used to make them, and how little power they use. Some of Apple's products, like the iMac desktop computer, had achieved EPEAT Gold certification before Apple voluntarily relinquished it.
Why did Apple do this?
EPEAT CEO Robert Frisbee reported that Apple said its "design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements."
In contrast to the commodity PC industry, which is usually based around standard, modular components, Apple's designs have been moving towards extreme integration, to the point where even its laptop batteries can't be replaced by users anymore. In its newest laptop design, the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, many components -- like the battery -- are glued to the case, as iFixit's Kyle Wiens demonstrated in a teardown. This keeps them from being disassembled easily for recycling, although Apple still offers recycling for its own computers.
So does this mean Apple's computers are less "eco-friendly" now?
What makes electronics more or less environmentally friendly is subjective, because they're extremely complex to make. Ethical issues include the human and environmental costs of mining conflict minerals such as coltan, the toxic chemicals used in construction, and the widely-reported labor issues surrounding the Chinese factories where most electronics are manufactured.
Standards bodies like EPEAT have helped to establish a minimum baseline for certain environmental criteria, but they are far from comprehensive, and even EPEAT Gold certification fails to take many things into account. (A video called The Story of Electronics examines many of the issues involved more closely.) Apple has been more up-front about its environmental and labor initiatives than most manufacturers, though, and has made "environmentally friendly design" a selling point for its computers. This isn't likely to change, even without EPEAT certification.
So what is changing, then?
Because federal government guidelines require 95 percent of the electronics purchased by American government agencies to be EPEAT certified, this might mean fewer Apple electronics in government venues. The Wall Street Journal article also notes EPEAT certification is given "preference" in hundreds of American universities, and that many require it.
There aren't many laws that limit what sort of environmental or human rights impact electronics sold in American stores are allowed to have, though. And besides that, EPEAT certification is only one way to measure such things, based around yesterday's less-integrated designs. So Apple's decision won't limit access to its electronics for most people who buy for themselves.
Jared Spurbeck is an open-source software enthusiast, who uses an Android phone and an Ubuntu laptop PC. He has been writing about technology and electronics since 2008.