EPEAT's Revised Rule-Making Draws Greenpeace Ire
The amount of wiggle room in the standards for what constitutes an upgradeable ultrathin laptop has Greenpeace calling foul on EPEAT. "If electronic devices can't easily be disassembled to be fixed or upgraded," said Casey Harrell, an international campaigner for Greenpeace, "that likely means they'll have to be discarded, adding to the amount of electronic waste we produce."
EPEAT, a vendor-supported organization that bills itself as the definitive global registry for greener electronics, has certified ultrathin notebooks from four vendors as meeting its green rating requirements.
The vendors are Apple, Lenovo, Samsung and Toshiba.
Criteria for the certification include whether the products can be upgraded, if tools are commonly available to accomplish upgrades, and whether materials of concern, including batteries, can be easily removed from the devices.
Ultrathins have come in for strong criticism because some of them have parts that can't be upgraded or replaced because they're integrated into the casings.
"I don't think that EPEAT's certification of these devices showcases an inherent flaw or bias in EPEAT's model," Casey Harrell, an international campaigner for Greenpeace, told TechNewsWorld. "Overall, it's a small number of models impacted here so far, and EPEAT could, and can, easily reverse course in the future."
However, "there's a lot of gray there in terms of how the [product verification committee] interpreted easy and common tools, though that's a question better put to EPEAT," Harrell continued. "If electronic devices can't easily be disassembled to be fixed or upgraded, that likely means they'll have to be discarded, adding to the amount of electronic waste we produce."
Greenpeace's core critique is that EPEAT appears to have caved in to Apple, which triggered a storm of protest when it withdrew from EPEAT earlier this year. The resulting uproar led Apple to reverse course.
Apple "wanted to change the EPEAT standards when it knew its MacBook Pro with Retina Display would likely not qualify for the registry in July of this year," Harrell stated. "Now EPEAT has reinterpreted its rules to include the MacBook Pro and Ultrabooks."
EPEAT did not respond to our request to comment for this story.
The Approval Process
The process for granting the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool certification includes requesting formal clarification of the standard requirements from EPEAT's Product Verification Committee, an independent group of experts on electronics and environmental issues.
It also includes a comprehensive review of publicly available technical information for notebook products in its registry, and verification by a technical test lab that independently purchases the devices in question on the open market and disassembles them according to the instructions provided.
The test lab recommended that all the products be found to satisfy EPEAT requirements.
EPEAT's product verification committee determined that, based on the clear wording of the relevant criteria, products could be considered upgradeable if they contained an externally accessible port through which additional capacity could be supplied to the registered product, or if they could be upgraded through the physical replacement of parts.
The committee also ruled that tools required for disassembly or upgrade of registered products are deemed commonly available if they can be purchased by any individual or business on the open market, are not proprietary and do not require agreements between the buyer and seller.
It did not create precise parameters for what constitutes easy and safe disassembly or removal of components because such terms can encompass different details depending on the product and must be demonstrated in action.
Therein lies the rub: What do the standards really mean?
"Our industry as a whole is not very green, and those companies that claim to be green may meet some standards, but, from my standpoint as an eco-friendly person, the standards are so lax they're not funny," Jim McGregor, president of Tirias Research, told TechNewsWorld.
EPEAT calls its environmental measures "criteria". These are based on ANSI-approved public standards, which provide technical details for every criterion and specify how a manufacturer must demonstrate compliance.
EPEAT registration is based on the IEEE 1680 family of environmental assessment standards. These standards are updated regularly.
Some EPEAT criteria apply to the characteristics of individual programs and others to corporate programs, such as a manufacturer demonstrating the public availability of a written corporate environmental policy consistent with ISO 14001.