EPEAT Defends Decision to Certify Ultrathin Notebooks

jfingas/CC BY-ND 2.0

Earlier this week, there was quite a bit of controversy over EPEAT's decision to certify five ultrathin notebooks, including the hard-to-repair MacBook Pro with Retina Display. It seemed that the organization was bowing to industry pressure instead of upholding green standards, particularly because it went against remarks its own CEO had made about the difficulty of recycling those products. EPEAT sent out a response yesterday defending their decision and giving some specifics on why those products made the grade.

From EPEAT's response:

As we have since the launch of the EPEAT registry six years ago, EPEAT continues to impartially apply and verify the standard. A few observations on the recent Verification investigation (Round 2012-05) of multiple ultralight products:

Regarding upgrade capability, the criteria specifically state that products may be upgraded or extended “by a high performance serial bus (IEEE Std 1394TM [B4]) or Universal Serial Bus (USB)”. Regardless of opinions about whether or not that is appropriate or acceptable language, the hard fact is that EPEAT has no authority to ‘flunk’ products if they meet the explicit terms of the standard.

Regarding disassembly: The criteria under discussion are located in the section of the standard that addresses Design for End of Life – that is, design for effective recycling. The criteria investigated are not aimed at refurbishment or repair. Again, people may think that there should be more in the standard about disassembly for repair and refurbishment – and we welcome their views – but these criteria do not apply to that topic.

The standard also doesn’t forbid specific construction methods such as fasteners versus adhesives – it just requires products to be easy to disassemble for recycling. The test lab went through the disassembly process and reported that the products were all easy to disassemble with commonly available tools.

The response goes on to say that all the heat over this recent crop of verifications is taking away from all the good that EPEAT has done by establishing a set of standards that companies can conform to -- those standards have led to industry-wide changes for the better, such as easier recyclability and fewer toxic materials being used. The registry has also given consumers a way to easily find products that are meeting those standards. I wholeheartedly agree with that and, as the response says, without a set of standards and a program to certify them, companies often have little incentive to make changes if they feel they will go unnoticed.

But there's also a responsibility to keep standards up-to-date and stringent as technologies change and EPEAT concedes in its response that its standards need to be revised with consideration to these new lighter, thinner computer products.

"The computer standard was written in 2005 (and slightly revised in 2009) - before slates and ultralight products were anywhere near as significant as they are now. Frankly the standard does not yet address the environmental issues with these products as effectively as it might, and the upcoming revision process will very likely make changes to do so more effectively.

EPEAT is bound to the current standard with all its strengths and imperfections until it is changed in a formal process. Such a process has begun – we encourage interested parties to participate and improve the criteria."

This is a great opportunity to create a better verification process. Lets make sure EPEAT knows what we want from our products, including better repairability. Here's EPEAT's staff page. Email them, tell them it's time for tougher standards.

Tags: Apple Inc | Electronics | Recycling | Technology

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