The Wall Street Journals Joel Schectman reported last week that Apple has asked environmental organization EPEAT to remove from its product registry all of the companys 39 certified desktop computers, monitors, and laptops.
If the previous paragraph has left you scratching your head, dont worry: Youre not alone. For just such a reason, weve put together a quick rundown of the moves significance; while it may not make you an expert on all things environmental and technological, it might at least give you something to talk about at your next dinner party.
What is EPEAT?
The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a nonprofit organization that helps promote environmentally preferable products. Its also backed by the federal governmentin the form of the Environmental Protection Agencyand industry partners. Until recently, that latter list included Apple, who helped develop the standard.
The group gives out three levels of certificationgold, silver, and bronzebased on a mix of required and optional criteria. While all EPEAT-certified products must at least meet the required criteria, higher rankings are given to those which meet more of the optional criteria.
EPEAT focuses on the overall lifecycle of a product, using details such as the materials used in the products, how long the product will last, energy conservation, packaging, and more. The group also takes into account whether the manufacturers offer takeback and recycling of old products and support services like warranties, which extend the life of products.
Previously, much of Apples Mac line was rated EPEAT Gold, meaning that not only did the products meet EPEATs required standards, they also met at least 75 percent of the organizations optional standards.
Whats the big deal?
Well, EPEAT isnt simply a nonprofit environmental organization. Due to Executive Order 13423, 95 percent of products purchased by federal agencies have to be EPEAT certified. So, despite Apple touting its products as highly environmentally friendly, federal agencies will be restricted from buying the vast majority of their computers from Apple.
The same is true for some state, city, and municipal offices. The city of San Franciscos Department of Environment, for example, has already said that Apple products will no longer qualify for purchase by city agencies, a move backed by the citys chief information officer.
In addition, some companies and higher education institutions also use EPEAT as a guideline for purchasing electronic equipment, though they are not required to do so by law.
Granted, while Apple has recently made inroads in corporations and government, those sources make up only a small part of the companys market. Education takes a slightly larger slice, but its still a fairly small percentage when compared to the companys sales to the consumer market at large.
Why did Apple pull its products?
Good question. Apples been fairly tight-lipped about the decision, but company spokesperson Kristin Huguet did tell The Loop that the company takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, Energy Star 5.2. In addition, Huguet added, Apple reports additional environmental information on its website, including areas not covered by EPEATs guidelines.
Its worth noting, however, that Energy Star only covers the energy-efficiency of a product, not other factors taken into account by EPEAT, such as recyclability or materials.
Some speculation about the EPEAT withdrawal suggests that the root cause might lie with Apple's latest products. The companys newest devices have often become more difficult to disassemble, making it harder to remove componentssuch as the toxic materials in the battery or the glass glued to the aluminum casefor recycling.
In particular, the recently released Retina display MacBook Pro did not apparently meet EPEATs criteria for disassembly. Thats not especially shocking, as a teardown by iFixit led its CEO to conclude that the new Mac was the least repairable laptop [iFixt has] ever taken apart.
Given that the Retina MacBook Pro represents Apples design vision going forward, its understandable that the company might find itself at odds with EPEAT, especially when it comes to the marketing of the companys most prominent new product. Its not hard to imagine that Apple would rather remove all of its products than deal with why its flagship Mac was not certified.
Indeed, EPEAT spokesperson Sarah OBrien said that Apple had told the organization that it plans on going in a different direction with its products.
Youve mentioned Macs. What about iOS devices?
Now thats paying attention. EPEAT actually doesnt cover smartphones and tablets at all, meaning none of Apples iOS devices were ever in the product registry in the first place. And a loophole in that above mentioned Executive Order says that government agencies are not required to use EPEAT if there is no EPEAT standard for a particular product.
That means federal agencies have no restrictions on purchasing iOS devices, and given that Apple has been selling more and more iOS devices than Macs, thats another reason why the company may not be as concerned about dropping its products from EPEATs registry. That said, there still could be some blowback from Apples decision to eschew the standard, which could affect the purchase of any of its products.
Does this mean Apple isnt making environmentally-friendly products?
Not really. After all, the products that Apple pulled from the registry havent themselves changedtheyre just as environmentally friendly as they were before. Despite intense scrutiny from organizations like Greenpeace, Apple has remained fairly transparent about its environmental information, listing information on its website about its carbon footprint, use of toxic substances, and recycling initiatives.
Going forward, freedom from EPEATs constraints may mean that Apple can make decisions about its product design that would have been otherwise unfeasiblebut it also means that there may not be an easy, objective way to judge the environmental factors of its future products.