The power of the people, and green credentials

Image credit: Apple – http://www.apple.com/environment/letter-to-customers/

Earlier this week, I was dismayed to read about Apple’s move to remove all of its certified products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) environmental program. As I read the breaking news, I wondered what the late Steve Jobs would have thought of this decision. I saw a clash with Apple’s pursuit of gorgeous design, and the short step to end of life, which if it results in pollution “is a symbol of design failure” as William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, so aptly describes.

E-waste is notoriously toxic if it reaches landfill and steps to address it include concepts such as design for disassembly. It is this very concept that apparently drove Apple to drop the EPEAT standard. Apple’s Retina Display MacBook Pro uses a glue rather than screw approach to adhering its battery to the case. This means neither the case or the battery are able to be recycled and repairs are difficult, if not impossible.

The news was not good for my career path, environmental labeling, green credentials – and this is one of America’s most innovative, creative and successful companies!

The impact of Apple’s decision resulted in an immediate loss of market opportunities. Federal government agencies must purchase at least 95% EPEAT certified products. The City of San Francisco, in Apple’s heartland, weighed in on the debate, stating city agencies will not purchase Apple products with city funds.

Thank goodness I don’t have to quit my day job as Apple have now completed an about face. In a letter from their Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, he announced that all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT and their relationship with EPEAT is stronger than ever!

This story touches on all three TBL (triple bottom line) pillars of corporate sustainability. The original move by apple to reject the environmental certification (environmental) cost them market access (financial) and it cost them an outpouring of discontent from their consumers (social). The reversal rectifies all three.

I think this journey actually demonstrates Apple’s strength, resilience and acceptance of change. Not every company is mature enough to publicly accept they made a mistake, and take immediate action to rectify it.

In the end, despite the painful headlines (“A red-faced apple returns to the green“) and the media mea culpa, Apple come out on top.

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