It is not every day that you read an admission of a mistake and an apology by the technology giant Apple. However, that is exactly what happened as Apple quickly backtracked on its decision to stop having its products rated according to the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) rating system. EPEAT is an environmental rating system that registers computers and other technology equipment that has met stringent technical criteria based on the IEEE 1680 family of Environmental Assessment Standards. The rating only applies to computers and generally covers material selection and disposal, sustainable manufacturing, energy conservation, and product end-of-life waste.
Apple quickly discovered how important the EPEAT environmental rating had become to its customers that include government agencies, government scientists, schools and universities, and large corporations. Shortly after dropping EPEAT, the city of San Francisco declared it would stop buying Apple computers. In addition, Apple has other customers that are required to use EPEAT-rated hardware. At the prospect of the loss of a significant amount of business, Apple did an about face and decided it had made a mistake.
There are two interesting aspects to this situation. First, Apple’s decision to return to the EPEAT environmental rating was customer-driven. It is proof that customers are exerting pressure on businesses to “go green” and can wield a lot of influence even on the largest companies. In fact, Apple’s customers contacted the company directly to express an objection to Apple’s decision. This shows the growing trend of bottom-up influence on corporate environmental decision-making.
Secondly, Apple admitted it made a mistake in a letter to the public published by the Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, Bob Mansfield. That said, Mr. Mansfield also explains that its computers are manufactured to exceed the Energy Star 5.2 government standard. This standard is not included in EPEAT, and Apple is of the opinion it should be.
Apple’s experience is a good lesson for other companies. The customer voice is growing louder as awareness booms. Clearly, decisions like the one Apple made to withdraw from EPEAT can no longer be made solely in the boardroom.
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