Does Apple’s EPEAT Status Matter?

Apple received an incredibly overwhelming response from customers, pundits, and doubters alike after having pulled its products from Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certifications. It did so, in theory, because its latest MacBook Pro with Retina display failed to meet the standards set by EPEAT’s managing Green Electronics Council. Simply put, the new MacBook isn’t exactly easy to disassemble and recycle, which is a critical component in the standard.

Unfortunately for Apple, pulling support for this government-backed program meant facing the wrath of its environmentally minded fans and doubters. Apple’s support for EPEAT was a big deal, and it served as an example to other hardware makers that might not have otherwise focused on their product’s impact on the environment. The EPEAT certification that was once so proudly displayed on Apple’s online store was missing, even from products that had already qualified.

Why did Apple make this move? Well, if you can’t have that label on all of your products, why have that label at all? In the mind of a corporation, answering questions as to why one product didn’t qualify while others did is a hassle, and one PR rightfully wanted to avoid. In this case, the opposite result happened and Apple found itself in the middle of a full-on backlash.

Apple’s Return to the EPEAT Fold

Today, Apple is back on board with EPEAT after an open letter from Apple’s Vice President of Hardware Engineering expressed regret for having pulled this support in the first place. “We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system.” He wrote, “I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.”

Robert Frisbee, the CEO of EPEAT, offered a response in an open letter of his own: “We look forward to Apple’s strong and creative thoughts on ongoing standards development.” He continued, “The outcome must reward new directions for both design and sustainability, simultaneously supporting the environment and the market for all manufacturers’ elegant and high-performance products.”

In essence, Apple has backtracked on its decision and admitted that a mistake was made by dropping the voluntary industry standard. Environmental controversy is nothing new to Apple. Even though former Vice President Al Gore sits on the board of directors, Apple has gone through multiple controversies surrounding its products and their impact on the environment.

Apple’s Customer Culture and Environmentalism

What I’m about to say is surely going to be opposed by at least a portion of the folks reading this. Please take into account that I’m expressing an opinion based on personal experience (including having worked in an Apple call center for a year) and not the result of any scientific study.

Apple’s customers, by and large, are prone to being more environmentally conscious. While yes, the customer base has expanded considerably over the past several years, the general image that Apple portrays through its advertising and promotional materials is that of an artistic individual with a thumb on the pulse of what’s happening. This same mindset could easily translate to environmentalism, which itself isn’t a dirty word.

These young, hip individuals think differently and object to the trends set by corporate America. Even though Apple is presently the largest technology corporation in the world, the image it portrays of being the anti-business still shines through the brushed steel and artistic design of its products.

So, when Apple walks away from one of the most respected environmental standards out there, its customers take note. Add to that the recent controversy surrounding the patent issues between Apple, Samsung, and Google — and you have a PR nightmare. It’s only logical that Apple would backtrack on its recent decisions, if only to mitigate the backlash it’s receiving from its growing customer base.

Let’s Get Real for a Moment

There is nothing environmentally friendly about building a laptop, iPhone, iPad, or a cable. The recycling process itself takes resources, and no production line can be truly self-sustaining. Apple burns fuel when it ships products from overseas, carbon through manufacturing and use of its products, and other hard materials such as paper and plastic, which are used in packaging. While Apple might boast its reduction of carbon emissions, that number is still far from zero.

No, your Apple products aren’t going to save the world. At the very least, they may be less harmful to the environment than products from other companies. Apple measures its success in carbon emissions for every dollar earned. As Apple grows, so does the impact it has on the planet. That’s just a fact of life and industry. No amount of clever marketing can erase that fact.

Apple’s latest designs have made life more difficult for would-be environmentally conscious consumers. You get the benefit of a super-thin design on a world-class laptop, but you lose the ease of recycling. This is one of the reasons Apple doesn’t want its newer MacBook to stick out like a sore thumb on the store page. This EPEAT logo means a lot for Apple’s public relations.

Where Apple Really is Making an Impact

Perhaps one of the success stories behind the iOS platform (and OS X these days) that you don’t hear about from environmental reports is how much physical product is being saved by downloadable apps versus retail boxes. No DVDs need to be printed, no boxes must be produced, and shipping is needed to bring a program to you as long as it exists on either the iTunes App Store or the Mac App Store. It would be difficult to put these numbers together, but that change to the market has to be very significant.

This isn’t an exclusively Apple initiative, but it is one that Apple has supported (indirectly or directly). Software used to be this large “big box” product that came with manuals and tons of disks. I remember buying a PC game that had over a dozen floppy disks in it, two manuals, and enough cardboard to fuel a bonfire. All this to get a program that could be downloaded in a minute today with minimal energy.

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.

  • http://twitter.com/nakhero_30 Evan N.

    Nope. Doesn’t matter at all. There are so little people boycotting Apple so it won’t make a difference. Plus, Apple has their own environmental standards and a great recycling/ repair program which works perfectly fine. This whole situation is ridiculous. People just love to hate on Apple. Several other companies use processes which are much worse, yet people don’t talk about them.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001248720132 Bryan Miner

    The only reason it matters is that government and education are made to have EPEAT certified.

    • Chasmoe Brown

      Exactly.

  • spikePL

    Losing education sector is particularly important as older students will based on their experience later choose Apple computer instead of windows based one. Government is more a prestige matter then economic.

  • http://twitter.com/sioxielegend Sioxie Legend/Suztv

    Although it may not matter to Apple or perhaps to most businesses – Apple has a higher standard and should adhere to it on all fronts. Not just when it’s convenient to them Otherwise customers will start to lose faith in the product/brand. Not immediately but over time this can be very costly.

  • http://twitter.com/uthmanbaksh Uthman Baksh

    No matter how big Apple Gets, it should rest on it’s laurels. One of the many reasons I enjoy buying Apple products is because they are among the most environmentally friendly. But if Apple is gonna turn their back away from that, then they may lose a consumer to a brand that does. If ducking the EPEAT ratings is the new standard, then Apple is losing their loyal base. sure we can Boycott Apple but that won’t do any good. People like me will still buy their stuff. Thus far, Apple is the most clean and open when it comes to environmental impact of their products. Not too many other companies are that open. Most are questionable at best.

  • johnwerneken

    I would in principle never by an apple product because first I HATE COOL DESIGN it ads nothing to my use of anything except irritation second they charge 4 times more than the junk is worth at least third they have a Chinese wall against interlopers or customers adding value or tweeks and forth I HATE THE ENVIRONMENTALISTS so anything they like I am against. Other than that no I could not care less what Apple does.

  • Chasmoe Brown

    There are many people who would “boycott” Apple because they would be required to by law: government employees. And that includes the schools. Apple wised up quickly on this one, realizing it wasn’t going to get its way, like it has with Flash and iOS.