“This was a mistake.” It’s not something we’re used to hearing from Apple, but the company’s abrupt turnaround on EPEAT green certification hasn’t exactly been textbook. The decision, first to opt out of having its Mac, iPad and other ranges rated, and then – in the face of consumer outcry – to push them back onto the scoreboard has been portrayed as a headstrong firm learning some humility, but it’s not enough. Apple‘s green 180 isn’t a chance to crow that a big company was forced to change its mind, it’s a hugely wasted opportunity to change how the environmental impact of our tech addiction is discussed.
I’ve not doubt that Apple made its original decision to withdraw its products from EPEAT certification for reasons that were as self-serving as they were moral. That could well have been, as has been speculated, that the environmental agency wasn’t looking as approvingly on the display-gluing involved in recent iPad and MacBook Pro construction as customers were, and Apple faced less-than-glowing grades on recycling potential. That a company – even one that plays so much on its “think different” ethos – should be primarily concerned with how well external agencies rank their products in comparison to rivals doesn’t exactly surprise me.
What comes as a disappointment is that, for many, Apple’s backtracking will be a close to the discussion. The period at the end of the earth-friendly debate; life goes back to normal, Apple’s computers, tablets and phones are “Green And Good” once more. No need to worry your pretty head about what “green” actually means.
Quick, without looking at the organization’s site, what exactly does EPEAT certification mean? What, exactly, does it test? Do you get a cover-all certificate or a scoring grade? Can one EPEAT-approved product be fundamentally better than another? If you can answer any of those questions – and, in all honesty, I had to go look up the answers myself – then I’d wager you’re in the minority of people.
We pay lip-service to “environmentally friendly” but most of us don’t care enough to actually understand what that means. Apple, like probably most companies, knows that. I’ve a suspicion – though Apple is unlikely to either confirm or deny it – that the decision to opt-out of EPEAT ratings was because the current standard of certification wouldn’t portray Macs and other Apple hardware in the most positive of lights. A PR move, then, and one reversed when the extent of the fall-out from that decision became apparent.
I’ll say it again, I don’t really blame them for that. Apple always slots a brief section on eco-credentials into each hardware keynote, usually to talk about how there’s no arsenic involved and such, but how many people would even notice if that part was missing? How many listen and think “hang on, why isn’t Lenovo, and Dell, and HP, and Acer, and ASUS, and Sony, and all the other PC manufacturers telling me the green-cred of their products when they launch?” We hardly hold companies to account for their environmental responsibilities; is it any surprise when they take a more pragmatic approach to them themselves?
The missed opportunity is ours – and Apple’s, and EPEAT’s, and the government’s – to ask what, exactly, is being tested here and why it’s important. It’s a missed chance for education into something with more long-term importance than DDR2 versus DDR3 RAM or which Intel processor to go for. Apple could have led the conversation on the eco-impact of our hunger for technology, but it backed off and gave us what the majority was asking for, and no more. In the end, though, we’ve only got ourselves to blame for that.