It's not often that one of the world's biggest companies says, "We goofed."
But in a surprising turn of events Friday, Apple admitted it made a mistake in pulling out of an environmental rating system for computers and other electronics. The company said it would rejoin the so-called EPEAT certification system, placing all 39 of its originally certified products back on the list. The company is also requesting certification for more products, including its new MacBook Pro model.
Apple's move comes after the company started to get hammered by customers who were not pleased by the company's initial decision.
For years, Apple has been actively working with EPEAT, a nonprofit that created environmental standards and a rating system for computers and other electronics.
But over the long Fourth of July weekend, when not many people were paying attention, Apple told EPEAT, which stands for Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, that it wanted to opt out of its rating system. Then, Apple removed all of its products from the group's environmentally certified list. All of the products had earned EPEAT's highest rating.
The company was bound to lose some sales from this initial decision. The federal government, cities including San Francisco and some companies have purchasing guidelines that favor EPEAT-certified products. Industry analysts say ultimately, the financial hit to Apple probably wouldn't have been much, but the company's reputation was clearly sullied in this episode.
It's still unclear why Apple decided to pull out of EPEAT's registry in the first place. Many observers suggest Apple was concerned that its newest products, including the MacBook Pro with Retina display, would not meet basic EPEAT standards and would not receive the green certification. Others speculate the company simply didn't want to be part of what it viewed as an antiquated product registry — one that didn't reward its environmental innovations.
But whatever the motive, the company heard from lots of customers who were not happy with its decision. A couple of days ago, Apple called EPEAT and talked about rejoining the list. On Friday, the company announced on its website that it had rejoined the certification process.
Within 20 minutes of the news, EPEAT's website, not exactly a household URL, was swamped with online visitors and crashed — an indication of how much attention Apple's decision has received.
Lingering Environmental Concerns
But environmentalists and some industry watchers remain concerned about the design trend in Apple's new products. While concerned consumers may welcome the news of Apple's rejoining EPEAT's registry, there are still unresolved environmental issues about the company's newest products.
According to Kyle Wiens, founder of the online repair site iFixit, Apple is now moving toward thinner and thinner laptops with glued-in batteries, which are difficult to recycle.
"This is like selling a car with tires that are welded to the car so that the only way to swap out the tires is to take it back to the manufacturer," says Wiens, who adds that replacing batteries is part of routine laptop maintenance.
Still, Apple has also made it clear that it wants to play a big role in helping to craft new EPEAT standards. In many respects, Apple has been an environmental leader, and the company wants to make sure it is rewarded, and gets credit for, its own green initiatives.
Developing these standards is a long and complex process involving input from manufacturers, environmentalists, and government officials, but we are likely to see new updated standards in about a year.