Apple threw away its credibility with its environmental labels, says Peter Judge
Some firms make ordinary PR gaffes. Not Apple. The iPhone maker’s public image foul-ups, like its products, are in a different league to those of other companies.
When Microsoft or Google make an error, they look confused, disagree, get embarrassed, dig a bit, then backpedal as quick as possible or quietly put the mistake somewhere where no one will see it.
Apple: we are right, you are wrong
Apple’s PR foul-ups come from its view that it always does things on its own terms, and always thinks it knows better than its customers.
When Apple goofs, it seems to launch a process specially designed to patronise and alienate the public. First the company clams up tight. Then it justifies itself. Then it explains how the critics are wrong, the world is wrong and even its customers are wrong.
That’s what happened with the iPhone 4 antenna problem. And that is what is happening with green certification of Apple products.
Apple withdrew from the EPEAT green certification programme without giving any explanation, a move which has jeopardised its public sector business in the US.
And still it refuses to put any more on the record beyond a completely inadequate two sentence statement that says it is right, and the rest of the world is wrong. A statement which bigs up every other green initiative Apple is involved in, and neglects to give any reason why it is abandoning EPEAT.
The statement is all the sadder, because of the genuine achievements which Apple has made in the field of green technology, including a move to power its data centres using renewable energy.
Does Apple understand EPEAT?
It’s also a statement which actually misrepresents the EPEAT scheme it is leaving behind. “Apple products
are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials,” it says.
Well, sorry Apple, but EPEAT does measure the removal of toxic materials. It specifies that products should comply with the European Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, which covers toxic materials including cadmium and lead.
It is possible that Apple is trying to say that it goes beyond what EPEAT demands, which is true. It has removed PVC from its products, along with other substances which EPEAT does not cover.
If so, that’s still no reason to leave EPEAT. There is no discernible negative to having a green sticker on your PC, so I can’t see any reason why Apple would leave EPEAT – unless it found it could not meet the requirements. This has led many people to speculate that the reason is motivated by the recyclability of certain Apple products, or lack thereof.
Apple products are notoriously hard to disassemble, and the new Macbook Pro takes this a step further, with a battery which is seriously difficult to take out without damaging it. Recycling is also the one green issue that Apple’s terse little statement ignores. Apple will say nothing on the record about this, which suggests it really is the issue.
But even that is hard to understand. Apple sells battery replacements for Macbook Pro systems, so it clearly finds them easier to prise out than the teardown supremos at iFixit.
Apple also offers to take back Macbooks and recycle them. That’s a standard “green” move that is at least partly designed to take viable secondhand kit out of the market so people have to buy new boxes – but those machines are destroyed responsibly, and the raw materials are reclaimed, so it should let Apple tick the recycling box.
And anyway, what level of recycling does does EPEAT actually require? I haven’t yet found anything specified in its online material that Apple couldn’t do.
So, we really don’t know why Apple is pulling out of EPEAT. Frankly, I think Apple just decided to walk, without any consideration of what the public response would be. Maybe it thinks EPEAT is an old, worn-out specification that deals with the kinds of desktops and laptops that Apple doesn’t sell.
It is possible that Apple just got bored with EPEAT. Perhaps it found the recycling demands were awkward but not insurmountable, and just decided to leave it. It didn’t feel the need to talk to the public because it thinks its customers are sheep. It’s been completely surprised by the fact that they are making any noise at all, and it still doesn’t feel any need to explain itself.
That can’t last. In this issue, Apple has some serious explaining to do.
Could you teach Apple a thing or two? Try our green quiz!