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Apple Finds It's Easier to Be Green Than Not

By Erika Morphy MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Jul 16, 2012 10:15 AM PT

Apple has reversed course and decided not to drop out of the Electronic Product Environment Assessment Tool program after all. Effective immediately, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.

Apple Finds It's Easier to Be Green Than Not

Customers' disappointment over its earlier decision to withdraw is the reason for the reversal, according to Bob Mansfield, SVP of hardware engineering.

Apple had brandished its environmental bona fides for years, and speculation immediately became heated that it was abandoning those principles when it decided to leave EPEAT.

EPEAT's Certification

EPEAT is a voluntary, U.S.-government backed registry of green electronics products. Products that are certified to these standards are seen as energy-efficient and easier to recycle. U.S. law requires that 95 percent of federal agencies' purchases of electronic products be EPEAT-compliant, which probably had much to do with Apple's decision to change course, Rob Walch, host of Today in iOS, told MacNewsWorld.

"I think the original decision was a premature one on Apple's part," he said.

Government and education buyers are an increasingly important constituency for Apple, he noted. At the same time, the public perception that Apple was abandoning its commitment to green had to have stung as well.

"It certainly gave the Apple-haters fodder to talk about" -- inappropriately so, Walch said, as Apple has pushed hard to green its supply chain.

"Apple is known for eliminating toxins from its products," he added, which is something that EPEAT doesn't monitor.

In his announcement of the reversal, Apple's Mansfield pointed to the accomplishments the company has achieved in this area over the years -- for example, removing such toxins as brominated flame retardants and polyvinyl chloride from its products.

Apple is the only company to report greenhouse gas emissions for every product it makes, he said -- "areas not yet measured by EPEAT."

The Trouble With the MacBook Pro

Apple has 39 existing entries in the EPEAT registry -- all of which would have been removed has it stood by its original decision. However, the problem product reportedly is its new MacBook Pro with Retina display.

The way the product is designed has made it difficult to be recycled, Walch said -- not to mention upgraded and repaired.

Now the question is, will the MacBook Pro be certified to this standard? It could very well be, said Laura DiDio, principal with ITIC.

"Apple has tremendous resources to apply to this process," she told MacNewsWorld. Also, the rules under EPEAT could allow it to apply for an extension if it doesn't meet the criteria in the first round.

However it happens, Apple will make it work -- especially now that it has recognized how important this certification is to its user base, DiDio said.

"Apple's customer base, whether it is consumer or corporate, has made it clear that it wants Apple to remain true to its environment roots," she noted.

Changing Standards

Another possibility is that EPEAT's standards could evolve or change, thus allowing the MacBook Pro to meet the certification, Walch suggested, noting that product standards often change in response to new technology and use case trends.

Certainly Apple has some sway on how the standards are crafted.

"Even if Apple hadn't changed its mind about EPEAT, it still would have had people advocating for its behalf on the standard-setting committee," DiDio said.

Apple, it would seem, is hoping this is the way the story will unfold.

Apple's relationship with EPEAT has become even stronger because of this episode, Mansfield noted, and the company is looking forward to working with the organization "as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve."

Apple did not respond to our request for further details.

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