Apple Inc. (Nasdaq: AAPL) has created yet another public policy stir, this time by dropping out of an environmental registry called the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT). EPEAT breaks down electronics products and assigns them a green rating.
Apple hasn't disclosed why it has asked EPEAT to stop rating its products. Apple's move has raised some eyebrows amongst environmental activists and several media outlets are reporting the city of San Francisco will stop purchasing Apple's products because of the move. San Francisco requires products used by city agencies to comply with EPEAT.
Just about anything Apple does -- or doesn't do -- spurs some form of public outcry. The company's partnership with Foxconn Electronics was criticized after Foxconn's mistreatment of its workers came to light. Foxconn has since raised workers' wages.
Environmental experts suggest Apple is dropping out of EPEAT because its newer products won't pass muster. Oddly enough, the EPEAT news came on the heels of Greenpeace's assessment that Apple is doing better in its overall environmental practices.
Its possible Apple's products will drop on the EPEAT scale, but I'd suggest another possibility: maybe one standard -- say, RoHS -- is good enough? The EU's Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) has been in effect in Europe for more than five years and similar measures are being adopted worldwide. Electronics products shipped into the EU must comply with RoHS. There's also a move within the EU that links RoHS compliance to the CE safety standard -- a kind of double assurance that the product is OK. Although RoHS currently does not have a stamp or seal similar to the UL or CE, there's talk within regulatory bodies of adopting a "RoHS-compliant" logo that can be used on all products.
I'm not sure how EPEAT standards measure up to RoHS. EPEAT's criteria are based on the IEEE's 1680 family of environmental assessment standards and within electronics, the IEEE's word is usually good enough. As a consumer, I'm not familiar with EPEAT and I'm not sure I'd buy anything based on EPEAT's word alone.
Apple may think EPEAT is unnecessary. On the other hand, Apple's competitors -- including Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Lenovo, Samsung, and Sony -- participate in EPEAT and the measure clearly is used by San Francisco as a gauge of environmental-friendliness. I don't see a downside to Apple's participation in EPEAT unless its products don't pass muster.
Either way, Apple is once again being held up as an industry leader that should set a good example. Foxconn's move suggests public pressure on Apple can change things for the better. If Apple wants to harness this power, the company could choose a single environmental standard and champion its cause. That would help the industry, the consumer, and of course, Apple.