Wednesday, 11 July 2012

EPEAT exit bites back at Apple

Only yesterday, it was reported that Apple had withdrawn from the EPEAT eco-label, apparently because it didn't want to comply with the design for disassembly criteria in the EPEAT standard. It's gratifying to see how quickly that decision has begun to influence procurement decisions. Today, the city of San Francisco has dropped Apple as a supplier.

Environmental standards play a valuable role by excluding the worst performers and rewarding best practice. If public bodies pledge to buy only products that meet a credible standard, it encourages suppliers to manufacture to that standard in order to secure their share of a massive revenue opportunity. That in turn makes more environmentally preferable products readily available to private consumers and businesses. Their combined purchasing power makes public procurers a powerful agent for change - they have more influence over suppliers than any other single vertical market.

Apple makes aesthetically beautiful products that offer an excellent user experience, but its business model relies on exploitative offshore manufacturing, massive margins and forced upgrades. Its products are designed to minimise manufacturing costs to the bone and discourage repair. It may think that its massive brand equity and fierce customer loyalty puts it above the influence of policymakers and standards bodies, but enough organisations follow San Francisco's lead it may be forced to reassess its strategy. This could actually mark a tipping point in the ability of eco-labels to set product norms.

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