Ed. Note: EPEAT asked if they could respond to the post we ran earlier this week about Greenpeace and iFixit’s concerns over EPEAT’s rating system and we were happy to add their voice to the mix. Share your thoughts in the comments!
By Sarah O’Brien, EPEAT Director of Outreach and Communications
The work of defining the standards that are applied in the EPEAT environmental rating system happens through a public, consensus-based stakeholder process. Participating environmental advocates, purchasers, manufacturers, government agencies, researchers, recyclers and others hash out the environmental performance criteria by which electronic products are rated in EPEAT. Once that process is complete, EPEAT’s job is to rigorously enforce those requirements.
The 1680.1 standard underlying EPEAT’s PC/Display registry, under which the newest Apple MacBookPro was certified, is not perfect, but the criteria it contains are the result of stakeholder consensus. That process will never produce a flawless or “best” standard, but it has produced the most effective standard – the best at changing the marketplace and improving the environmental performance of an industry, as EPEAT has done over the past six years.
EPEAT standards are intended to be continually updated to address new technology directions, new environmental findings, or new consensus on how to move toward more sustainable product design. But, during the period that each version of a standard is in place, EPEAT must verify and rate products based on the criteria that registered products are designed and declared to meet, not on opinions about what the standard should or could say.
We continue to impartially apply and verify the standard, according to its actual content, as we have since the launch of the EPEAT registry. EPEAT conducts ongoing verification investigations to ensure that registered products meet the system’s requirements. The latest such investigation, performed on multiple ultralight laptops from four different manufacturers, has been questioned by some who want to see EPEAT address refurbishment more effectively. A few notes on the investigation may clarify why the products were found to comply with EPEAT’s requirements:
1) Upgradability – the specific language of the standard says:
- Hard disk, digital versatile disc (DVD), floppy drive can be changed or extended [e.g., by a high performance serial bus (IEEE Std 1394™ [B4]) or Universal Serial Bus (USB)]
- Memory and cards can be changed or extended [e.g., by a high performance serial bus (IEEE Std 1394 [B4]) or USB].
Regardless of opinions about whether or not that is appropriate or acceptable language, the hard fact is that EPEAT does not have any authority to ‘flunk’ products if they meet the explicit terms of the standard.
2) 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. The test lab found that all the products investigated could be easily disassembled for recycling.
Again, people may think that there should be more in the standard about disassembly for repair and refurbishment – and we encourage them to put their views forward in standards update discussions- but these criteria, on which the investigation was based, do not apply to that topic.
The computer standard was written in 2005 and slightly revised in 2009 – before slates and ultralight products were any where near as prominent 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.
But, EPEAT is bound to the standard with all its strengths and imperfections until it is changed in a formal process. Such a process has begun – we encourage critics to participate.
Sarah O’Brien is an expert on the use of environmentally preferable purchasing to reduce health and environmental hazards. She participated as an environmental purchasing stakeholder on the original Development Team that created EPEAT, and joined the EPEAT staff in 2007. Previously, with H2E/Hospitals for a Healthy Environment and the national nonprofit INFORM she assisted state, local and federal government, health care, education and enterprise purchasers across North America to improve environmental performance through purchasing initiatives affecting billions of dollars of procurement each year. Previously, as an environmental health advocate for the National Wildlife Federation and Vermont Public Interest Research Group, she was involved in legislative advocacy and public education efforts throughout the Northeast United States, with a specific focus on mercury and other toxics elimination measures.