It's not often that we get missives directly from Apple to the public, much less apologies. But senior vice president of hardware engineering Bob Mansfield took to Apple's website on Friday for both, as he explained that Apple was reversing its earlier decision to remove its products from the EPEAT environmental registry.
In the letter, Mansfield says that company heard from "many loyal Apple customers" who expressed their disappointment over the EPEAT removal. Describing the move as "a mistake," he said that the company has now replaced "all eligible Apple products" in the registry. That, of course, does not include Apple's iPhone or iPad models, as they belong to device categories that EPEAT does not rate.
However, that return does come with some qualifiers. For one thing, Mansfield echoed a previous statement from Apple about the EPEAT removal, noting that the company has made a lot of environmental progress "in areas not yet measured by EPEAT." On that list are the removal of toxic materials from Apple's products, including brominated flame retardants and PVC, which the company made an effort to eliminate as far back as 2007. Mansfield also mentioned that Apple's product lines not only meet but exceed the government's Energy Star 5.2 rating about power usage, which he says is unmatched in the tech industry.
As for why Apple chose to reverse course, some clues come in the last couple paragraphs of Mansfield's letter. The executive mentions that the IEEE 1680.1 standard, on which EPEAT is based, could be strengthened by adding the above criteria, and even says that the company is looking forward "to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve." The IEEE 1680.1 standard is currently in the process of being updated by an IEEE Work Group.
Apple's withdrawal from EPEAT was not particularly beneficial to either party. Apple risked getting dinged once again by environmental groups as well as potentially losing business from government, corporate, and higher education institutions that use the standard. EPEAT, on the other hand, lost not just a prominent industry supporter, but the most visible and profitable tech company around. Given those mutually destructive factors, it's perhaps not surprising that the two would come to some sort of agreement.
But it also seems likely Apple has maneuvered to get what it wants: more input into the updated standard. The more cynical minded might point out that by adopting standards that Apple has already met, the company has a leg up on competitors. But it's also hard to argue that more stringent standards wouldn't be to the benefit of environmental factors.
As for speculation from many--including myself--that the new Retina MacBook Pro was at the root of the dispute, I noted that this is apparently not the case. Despite the nature of the new MacBook Pro's construction, which reportedly could make it hard to effectively recycle, Apple's environmental report for the product says that it holds EPEAT's Gold rating--the highest level available.
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