Customers May Have Forced Apple’s EPEAT Retreat

on July 13, 2012

No EPEATWell that didn’t take take long. Just a week after Apple announced that that it was pulling its products from EPEAT environmental certification, it reversed itself and said it would continue with the program and work with EPEAT to evolve more modern standards.

In an open letter, Bob Mansfield, Apple’s soon-to-retire senior vice president for hardware engineering, said:

“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. I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT.”

This sort of public retreat is rare, if not unprecedented, for Apple. So what happened? As usual, we have no clue as to what led to the change and Apple isn’t talking beyond the release of the letter. But I think I can make a pretty good guess, and the primary clue is Mansfield’s first sentence.

Related content: Does Apple Hate the Environment?

Whether EPEAT is a good standard or not, many organizations are deeply committed to it. A fair number, mostly in the public sector, have formal commitments that require them to buy EPEAT-certified products. And Apple may have miscalculated just how important that would be.

I think the most significant pressure may have come from schools, both K-12 systems and colleges. Many governments, including federal, have EPEAT requirements,  but they are not significant buyers of Macs. (Current EPEAT standards cover desktops and notebooks but not tablets or phones, so iPad and iPhone sales would not have been directly effected.) But the education market is hugely important to Apple.

As best I can tell, no institution said publicly that it would stop buying Apple products because of EPEAT, but The Boston Globe quoted Bill Allison, director of campus technology services for the University of California at Berkeley as saying: “When something like this happens it is a significant change in the landscape. We are reviewing the impact of this.”

The language in private, I suspect, was stronger and that is what most likely led Apple to accept a rare public embarrassment and reverse its decision.