Environmental standards group EPEAT, which rates electronics for their environmental friendliness, has cleared five ultrathin laptops, including Apple’s MacBook Air, as conforming to its “green” standards.
The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) announced Friday that its investigation of notebooks sold by Apple, Lenovo, Samsung, and Toshiba met the group’s review criteria and as such were in compliance with its “green rating.” Specific areas of concern for the government-backed group included whether products were upgradeable, whether upgrades could be accomplished with commonly available tools, and whether materials such as batteries could be easily removed.
EPEAT has decided that an upgrade doesn’t necessarily require access to the insides of the computer.
“Products containing externally accessible ports such as a high performance serial bus or a USB are capable of being upgraded by adding a hard disk, DVD, floppy drive, memory and cards, and therefore conform to this criterion,” EPEAT’s product verification committee said in a clarification to the rule.
The group, made up of hardware manufacturers, recyclers, and advocacy groups, focuses specifically on hardware recycling, not the toxins or carbon emissions connected with the products.
Apple had previously pulled its products from the registry with the release of the Retina MacBook Pro, when concerns were raised it might lose the coveted “Gold” ranking for the model. The Retina model uses more glue and other techniques said to be less easily recyclable than past methods. Apple soon reversed its decision, saying the company will have its products rated by the organization.
Greenpeace is not pleased with EPEAT, and has spoken out about the change to the assessment standards. Greenpeace’s Casey Harrell from the statement:
Is it a coincidence? It’s unclear why EPEAT caved in, but the impact is that EPEAT has confused consumers and businesses who want to buy green electronics that can be repaired and will last a long time, and sets a dangerous trend for the burgeoning market of ultrabooks.
It seems clear that the controversy surrounding the assessment of devices such as ultrathin laptops is far from over, and that the story will continue to develop.
UPDATE 10/15/2012 - The EPEAT’s change in assessment standards does also allow Apple’s Retina Display MacBook Pro to meet the standards to receive the “Gold” ranking from the organization.
UPDATE 10/18/2012 - EPEAT has now posted a defense of its actions, saying that its review committee was just following the guidelines as they are written. While acknowledging some of the concerns, they note that the issues should be raised in the forthcoming update to their standards, and not used as criticism of the current standards.
Regarding upgrade capability, the criteria specifically state that products may be upgraded or extended “by a high performance serial bus (IEEE Std 1394™ [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 in any way 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.