It’s hard to know why Apple made the decision to opt out of certification by EPEAT, the green computing standard, without hearing from the company directly about it. One thing is all but certain: the company made a considered decision to do what it thought was in the best interests of its shareholders.
The reality is that there is no single definition of a “green product.” The manufacture, use and disposal of IT products can have a wide range of environmental impacts. Some products may have excellent environmental performance in some dimensions–such as energy efficiency or the absence of toxic materials–but unimpressive performance in others. Apple has performed life cycle assessments of its products in the past and found that 91 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions associated with its products are traceable to the manufacturing and use phase. It traced just 2 percent of its greenhouse gas emissions to recycling. It will be interesting to see how the new Macbook pro fares in an updated LCA.
Some organizations have green procurement policies that require the computers they purchase to be EPEAT rated. Apple’s move may make it difficult for these organizations to continue purchasing Apple products in the categories that EPEAT rates. Notably, this does not currently include tablets or smart phones, two growth categories for Apple. I have seen little evidence that individuals or small businesses consider environmental labels highly when deciding to purchase Apple products.
This move may ignite a debate about the definition of a green computing product, and it may drive discussion about how to define standards for newer categories of products like tablets and smart phones that are not currently addressed by EPEAT ratings and in which Apple dominates. Defining a standard there that excludes the market leader would make the standard less relevant than it otherwise would be.