Apple’s Missteps Shine Light on Consumer Clout and Power of Ratings

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Apple’s Missteps Shine Light on Consumer Clout and Power of Ratings

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - 6:15pm


The first half of 2012 has proven to be somewhat of a rollercoaster ride for Apple Inc., -- well, as much of a rollercoaster as you can have with a stock price of $585 a share, up 27 percent since January 1. Of course, the company remains on solid ground as one of the most revered companies in history, with its freakishly loyal following and uncanny knack for out-innovating the competition. But, on at least a few occasions this year, Apple has fallen short of consumer expectations on one critical aspect of their game: commitment to sustainability.

On July 10, released an announcement of the official withdrawal of 39 Apple products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool, or EPEAT, a highly recognized electronics-rating registry run by non-profit Zero Waste Alliance. Robert Frisbee, CEO of EPEAT reported to the Wall Street Journal that Apple had decided its “design direction was no longer consistent with the EPEAT requirements.” According to InfoWorld Tech Watch, the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display may have been a factor in this decision to pull out of EPEAT, due to the difficulty to disassemble and therefore recycle batteries, which resulted in an incredibly low score of the product.   

Consumer outrage and criticism quickly followed Apple’s decision to depart from the EPEAT registry. Just days after the decision from Apple hit the web, the city of San Francisco announced that its government will no longer purchase laptops, desktops, or monitors, leaving out iPhones or iPads. And the recoil would not stop there; many universities and government bodies abide by the EPEAT standard, having potentially a significant impact on the company. The most startling contradiction to most was that Apple helped start EPEAT.

The response to Apple’s decision was so audibly fierce, that within just days of the turmoil and backlash from San Francisco, Apple rejoined EPEAT, with the controversial MacBook Pro receiving the highest rating, gold. In a letter from Bob Mansfield, Senior Vice President of hardware engineering, the mistake was recognized, and commitment to EPEAT remade. Mansfield pronounces, “Our relationship with EPEAT has become stronger as a result of this experience, and we look forward to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve.”

The EPEAT debacle is not the first of the year for Apple. Earlier in 2012, Greenpeace heavily criticized the company for their use of coal to power 50-60% of two of three current data centers, according to Gary Cook, senior policy analyst at Greenpeace. Coal-powered energy contributed to the fifth-lowest score Apple received in Greenpeace’s How Clean Is Your Cloud? report, comparing global IT and Internet companies on energy choices. In response to this, in May Apple announced intentions to power its Maiden, NC center entirely on renewable energy by the end of the year.

The lesson here is simple: the customer is still king and the power of the purse still matters. If enough people yell loud enough and demand products that satiate our needs for gadgetry, WHILE exhibiting a certain level of environmental integrity, it may be possible to have our cake and eat it too.