Apple and EPEAT kiss and make up by Peter Judge
Apple has been in the news again over its green credentials - and this time it’s about the labelling on its computers - primarily the Macbook.
The whole episode had the feel of something slightly stage managed. First the EPEAT organisation announced that Apple was withdrawing from its environmental labelling scheme - whereby products get an EPEAT label if they meet targets for energy efficiency, use of toxic materials and recyclability.
Public sector agencies are advised to buy only environmentally friendly products, so the move called Apple’s government sales into question. San Francisco led the chorus of disapproval: it advised its agencies not to buy any more Apple goods.
It all sounded mighty strange. Apple is an environmentally friendly company. As well as using renewable energy in its data centers, its products meet low-energy targets, and have low levels of toxic chemicals.
As far as we can tell, Apple exceeds most of the EPEAT criteria. The EPEAT scheme asks that products eliminate chemicals including lead and cadmium. Apple has got rid of those, along with some others, including PVC.
Why pull out? There must be something in the scheme that Apple could not deliver, people reasoned. And the best guess seemed to be recycling.
The newest Macbooks, it was said, would be hard to recycle, because teardown sites such as IHS have found them hard to dismantle. Components such as the screen and battery are glued in.
It was the only plausible story, but raised more questions. For instance, Apple itself offers to recycle these machines, and also offers a battery replacement service.
Apple’s typically terse statement on the subject seemed to imply that it was perfectly able to meet and beat the EPEAT requirements - and indeed, after three days of protest, it made a swift U-turn and announced its products are all back on the list.
So what was all that about? If Apple could meet EPEAT,why pull out. The answer seems to lie in a bid to improve and tighten up EPEAT.
Both Apple’s open letter, and one from EPEAT talk about improving the criteria.
“We look forward to Apple’s strong and creative thoughts on ongoing standards development,” said Robert Frisbee, EPEAT’s CEO. “We look forward to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve,” said Bob Mansfield, Appl’s senior vice president for hardware.
I think Apple felt the standards were out of touch. They only cover desktop and laptop computers, so Apple’s iPad can’t have a sticker, and they don’t address mobile phones at all. And they also don’t reward any environmental work - like Apple’s - which goes beyond what is in the standard.
Maybe Apple made some kind of ultimatum, and EPEAT called its bluff. Although the fallout seemed to hurt Apple, it also raised the possibility that EPEAT itself might lose credibility.
So even though Apple has been apparently shamed back into toeing the line, it has not made any concessions.
It is EPEAT that is talking about changes to its standards. Apple is not discussing any difference to the way it makes products.
Apple’s moves may have been typically clumsy and arrogant, but there may well be very positive developments to the EPEAT green branding scheme as a result.