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Industry Insight

Rinse and EPEAT

By Richard Romano
Published: July 18, 2012

Apple made some unwelcome headlines over the weekend with, first, its decision to yank EPEAT certification from its products, and then the reversal of that decision. As for the why of the first decision:
“Apple 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,” Apple representative Kristin Huguet, told The Loop. “We also lead the industry by reporting each product’s greenhouse gas emissions on our website, and Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials.”
Two things. First, Energy Star isn’t directly comparable to EPEAT since Energy Star solely deals with energy consumption, while EPEAT comprises 51 criteria that assess things like reduction and elimination of environmentally sensitive materials, product longevity, end-of-life management, corporate performance, packaging, takeback and recycling, programs, and “other support services that can significantly reduce environmental impact.” The other thing is that the only Apple products that qualify for EPEAT certification are its computers and displays; iPads, iPods, and iPhones are not included. What was the bone of contention? Purportedly, Apple’s “design direction” was not consistent with EPEAT standards. To wit, part of the standard requires that all components be easily disassembled by recyclers in order to remove batteries and other toxic materials. However, the new MacBooks, which are not EPEAT-certified, are not easily disassembled meaning that the battery and the case can’t be recycled. Since Apple likely sees this design as the wave of the future—at least for now—it seems likely they would want to wean themselves off of EPEAT. Interestingly, Apple was one of the companies that helped write the EPEAT specs. Anyway, a moot point as, thanks in large part to the city of San Francisco, Apple backed off its decision. San Francisco immediately barred Apple computers from being purchased with public funds. (Again, this only referred to computers, laptops, and displays, not mobile devices.) However, since only about 1–2% of the city’s computers are Macs, it’s largely a symbolic gesture. That said, Apple does count heavily on government and educational sales, so nipping in the bud any migration away from Apple products makes strategic sense. The resolution to the conflict, it seems, is that EPEAT will look to update its standards which are, by many accounts, a little behind the times. That they don’t include standards for mobile devices and tablets is a good indication of that, since these new devices not only are the hottest tech product categories, but also have shorter active lives than computers and thus are discarded more frequently, posing a bigger e-waste problem than their forebears. The EPEAT standards were drawn up in 2006—this was even before the first iPhone was released. In order to be relevant, reliable, and ultimately useful, environmental standards have to keep pace with current technology. It would be like CoC standards for paper drawn up in the days before paper was made from wood. Let’s hope that the results are improved—and not watered-down—EPEAT criteria. Also, we hear a lot about how Apple is such a green company and while they are more transparent than most, Greenpeace still gives them only middling grades in some areas, although much improved (link opens PDF).

Please offer your feedback to Richard. He can be reached at richard@whattheythink.com.



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