Apple working to “refresh” the green PC standards it dropped

July 11, 2012, 10:51 AM UTC

FORTUNE — Apple’s (AAPL) withdrawal of its entire product line — including 39 green-certified desktops, notebooks and monitors — from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool program has finally created a kerfuffle serious enough to stir the company’s public relations department into action.

A few hours after 
CIO Journal
reported that San Francisco planned to stop buying Apple products because they no longer met EPEAT recycling standards, the company issued this statement:

“Apple takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the US government, Energy Star 5.2. We also lead the industry by reporting each product’s greenhouse gas emissions on our website, and Apple products are superior in other important environmental areas not measured by EPEAT, such as removal of toxic materials.” (Via The Loop)

What that boilerplate statement did not mention is that Apple helped create the EPEAT standards in 2006, and that it is part of a team that is currently rewriting those standards to bring them up to date with current manufacturing processes — including, one might suppose, glueing the new MacBook Pro’s batteries firmly to their aluminum case.

According to Sarah O’Brien, a spokesperson for the Vermont-based Green Electronics Council that administers the EPEAT program, the IEEE 1680.1 standard that underlies EPEAT is undergoing a “refresh” and that Apple is participating in the process. She writes:

“Four study groups – including representation from Apple and other manufacturer participants as well as a wide array of other stakeholders and with research assistance from the Rochester Institute of Technology – have just delivered reports on a number of preliminary questions which will inform the IEEE 1680.1 standard refresh process, expected to launch shortly.”

According to O’Brien, the refresh process has taken “a bit longer than we would like,” largely because the stakeholders have been busy creating new IEEE server standards and rewriting the rules that cover imaging equipment and televisions.

“We just haven’t seen the bandwidth available to execute the 1680.1 refresh until this past fall – at which point we launched into the process,” she writes.

EPEAT, she adds, “is designed to ramp up as technology design/direction changes and as environmental goals move from ‘stretch’ to widely achievable.”

It’s not hard to see that it’s a “stretch” to ask today’s Apple products to meet standards written the year the company introduced the first MacBook Pro. The battery on that machine could be removed by hand, and the computer itself disassembled with a screwdriver. Try doing that with an iPhone, an iPad or a Retina MacBook Pro.

How flexible EPEAT will be about making its refreshed standards “widely achievable” by Apple is not clear. And what neither Apple nor EPEAT is telling us is what happened behind the scenes to cause the company to administer this self-inflicted environmental black eye. After all, Apple could have left its 39 green-approved products on EPEAT’s list while the new standards were being written and nobody would have been the wiser.

The Green Electronics Council says it hopes the company will return to register its products with EPEAT some time in the future. Apple hasn’t said what it plans to do about EPEAT.

Meanwhile you can expect to see more headlines like the one in Tuesday’s
CIO Journal
as cities, schools and government agencies follow San Francisco’s lead and drop Apple from their lists of approved suppliers. See What Apple lost by dropping EPEAT green certification.