Apple's EPEAT reversal shows sustainability's clout

Apple's EPEAT reversal shows sustainability's clout

[This story has been updated to note that Apple's MacBook Pro with Retina display was added to the EPEAT registry.]

Apple's announcement this morning about its decision to return to the EPEAT green electronics registry wasn't just a direct reversal of policy.

Following the outcry from customers, including institutional buyers and activists, Apple worked with EPEAT over the last week to add new products onto the registry, as well as placing Apple's 39 eligible products back on the approval list, according to Sarah O' Brien, EPEAT communications director. The company's MacBook Pro computer with Retina display, rumored to have been the reason for Apple's withdrawal from the registry in the first place, was added to its list of certified products, achieving an EPEAT Gold rating, said Apple spokeswoman Kristin Huguent.

The computer giant's turnaround from its decision last Friday shows the clout that EPEAT has with companies, governments and educational purchasers which have adopted environmental procurement policies following EPEAT standards. The registry rates computer desktop computers, laptops and monitors based on their energy use, toxics and recyclability.

Apple released the news on its website this morning in a letter to customers from Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering Bob Mansfield. "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," Mansfield's letter read. "I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT."

EPEAT coordinated with Apple to release the news simultaneously, according to O'Brien. "I am very happy to announce that all of Apple’s previously registered products, and a number of new products, are back on the EPEAT registry," CEO Robert Frisbee wrote in an open letter on the EPEAT home page. "Our relationship with Apple is based on our natural alignment – as Apple drives innovation in product design, EPEAT drives innovation in standards design."

The company's decision to withdraw its eligible products from EPEAT -- despite no publicly known change in its manufacturing processes or material composition -- brought about a swift reaction from the City of San Francisco's Department of the Environment, which notified all city departments within days of the EPEAT withdrawal that they were no longer allowed to purchase products from Apple.

By remaining estranged from the registry, Apple also faced a potential loss from a number of large purchasers with procurement policies in place requiring EPEAT purchases, including Kaiser Permanente, McKesson and HDR. The U.S. government has a purchasing policy requirement that 95 percent of its agencies' electronics be certified by EPEAT, according to O'Brien. And several universities and federal, state and municipal agencies have such policies in place as well, according to Information Week.

Both EPEAT and Apple appeared eager to put this weeklong incident behind them and look to a renewed relationship.

"Mainly we're very excited and happy," said O' Brien. "We love to have Apple participating actively in the system. We're very cognizant of the general stakeholder community to whom EPEAT is important."

She added: "We're moving forward, as we have been, on innovation in standards and environmental requirements and are very happy to have Apple be a part of that. It's a happy resolution for all of us."

"Our relationship with EPEAT has become stronger as a result of this experience, and we look forward to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve," Mansfield wrote. "Our team at Apple is dedicated to designing products that everyone can be proud to own and use."