A few days ago, Apple voluntarily dropped EPEAT certification for all of its devices. EPEAT is an organization which receives funding from the Environmental Protection Agency, and gives electronic devices "Bronze," "Silver," or "Gold" certification based on various measures of how eco-friendly they are. Many of Apple's computers had EPEAT's highest "Gold" certification at the time.
Two days ago, Apple responded to critics of the move. Today, it published a letter from Bob Mansfield, Apple's Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, which said that "this was a mistake" and that "Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT."
So Macs were going to become non-eco friendly, and now Apple's gone back on that?
In the letter published today, Mansfield claims on behalf of Apple that "our commitment to protecting the environment has never changed" and that "Apple makes the most environmentally responsible products in our industry." And in the statement released two days ago, Apple representative Kristin Huguet pointed out that "Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials".
Okay, so why'd Apple drop EPEAT to begin with?
In Joel Schectman's Wall Street Journal article which first broke the story, EPEAT CEO Robert Frisbee is quoted as saying that Apple's "design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements." Many speculated that this was related to how the latest, Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pro had its non-removable battery glued to the inside of its case.
That keeps it from getting EPEAT certification?
One of the things EPEAT looks at is how easily a device can be disassembled for recycling. Apple's hardware, as eco-friendly as it may be, tends to be very hard to disassemble, and the trend is accelerating as its notebooks become thinner and lighter.
So did Apple decide not to make thin and light MacBook Pros anymore?
Not exactly. Today's letter from Mansfield said that "We think the IEEE 1680.1 standard [on which EPEAT is based] could be a much stronger force for protecting the environment if it were upgraded to include advancements like" using more eco-friendly materials than plastic, and reporting greenhouse gas emissions which take into account the device's whole lifecycle. It also says "Our relationship with EPEAT has become stronger as a result of this experience," which suggests that the two organizations are going to be working together more closely now.
It should be noted that as a result of dropping EPEAT, Apple was set to lose much of its government and education business, as many schools and government agencies in the United States require that EPEAT-certified electronics make up a majority of device purchases. Now that Apple is working with EPEAT again, it's no longer facing that issue.
Doesn't this favor Apple unfairly at the expense of other manufacturers?
Technically, things were the other way around. Despite having industry-leading environmental practices, Apple was only eligible for the same EPEAT Gold certification as HP or Dell. And the existing EPEAT requirements didn't take into account specialized designs such as the Retina MacBook Pro's. A closer partnership may help resolve these two issues. Although with Apple's monopsony pricing advantage, it may be extremely hard for other manufacturers to compete with it in terms of price and eco-friendliness at the same time.
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.
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