EPEAT and Apple begin an on-and-off relationship.

Photo by afagen | flickr.comSince 2006, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) has helped consumers of personal computers choose more environmentally friendly products. Apple, however, has had a tough relationship with them in the past few months.

The implementation of EPEAT as a global environmental rating system has resulted in greener choices being made by both corporations and governments. This, in turn, has led to a large variety of benefits for the environment including substantial reductions in the usage of primary materials and power. 

The criteria constituting EPEAT were developed by a variety of stakeholder groups including manufacturers and government agencies.  One such stakeholder was Apple, a company that prides itself on its environmentally friendly products. With such, it was very surprising when Apple withdrew its products from EPEAT in late June. Also surprising was Apple’s return to the certification system only two weeks later on July 13th.  One positive thing may come out of Apple’s defection and subsequent return: the revitalization of EPEAT’s standards. 

Apple’s departure from EPEAT seemed to be driven by the design of its latest version of the MacBook Pro. Other than the new Retina display, this laptop was to vary from its predecessors in one crucial way: glue would be used instead of screws in certain places. As this change would prevent parts of the product from being recycled, it would not have made the cut if measured by EPEAT.  

Apple’s withdrawal from EPEAT was met with resistance on several fronts. The city of San Francisco announced its intention to stop its purchasing of Apple personal computers products. Given that the environmental policy of the city of San Francisco is quite influential, one could see why this decision would be alarming for Apple. In addition to this, several corporations and schools also have similar policies that limit their purchasing to EPEAT-certified products.

Apple’s return to EPEAT on July 13th makes sense under this light. In the open letter announcing the company’s return, Bob Mansfield, the senior vice-president of hardware engineering, placed emphasis on the merits of Apple’s current environmental efforts.  He cited the company’s surpassing of the ENERGY STAR 5.2 standards set by the U.S. government and stated that progress was being made  “in areas not yet measured by EPEAT”. Mansfield also emphasized that the renewed relationship between EPEAT and Apple has strengthened and will potentially lead to an evolution of the EPEAT standard. We can only hope this will culminate in tangible change and will be more than just empty words.