Does Apple Really Have the Greenest Notebooks?

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Straight to the source

Artwork: Chip Taylor
Frankly, I found NAD's opinion rather confusing, so decided to go straight to the source: the EPEAT registry. There I discovered some interesting findings that arguably contradict Apple's claim.

Here, I should better explain the EPEAT rating system. As I mentioned, to attain a Bronze EPEAT rating, a product must meet the 23 required EPEAT criteria; that includes compliance with Energy Star as well as the European Union's Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (ROHS). On top of those required criteria, there are 28 optional ones. These take into account a variety of environmental considerations: what toxic materials a product contains; how many recycled materials it contains; how easy it is to upgrade and to recycle; what sort of packing it comes with; and so forth.

Now then: Prior to NAD's ruling, Toshiba had 15 Protege notebooks registered with EPEAT. Four of the systems have 23 optional EPEAT points; the other 11 have 22 optional EPEAT points, the same number the various MacBooks had earned. So how could Apple have rightly claimed the MacBook to be the greenest computer line, when the Protege line was arguably as green, if not greener?

Second, Toshiba also had notebooks from its Satellite line registered with EPEAT before Apple had added its new MacBooks to the registry. Of those 22 Satellites, 16 had earned 22 optional EPEAT points; the other six Satellites had earned 21 optional EPEAT points. Furthermore, after NAD laid down its judgment regarding Apple, Toshiba added another 20 Gold-rated notebooks to the EPEAT registry. Of those 20 new machines, 19 were in the Satellite family. Seven met 23 of the optional EPEAT criteria; the other 12 met 22 of the optional EPEAT criteria. The addition of these new systems pushed the total number of Gold-rated notebooks in the Toshiba Satellite line from 21 to 41. That makes for a pretty darn green line of notebooks.

All in all, Toshiba offers 78 of the 288 EPEAT Gold-rated notebooks in the EPEAT registry, more than any other vendor. While I'm at it, care to take a guess who has the second most? If you guessed Dell or HP, you're wrong. It's Sony, with 59. There are 37 under the HP and/or Compaq label. Apple, ASUSTeK, and Samsung each have 11. Dell and Lenovo have 10. Fujitsu has one.

Does this mean that the MacBook is, in fact, not the greenest notebook family on the planet? I think Apple would be hard-pressed to demonstrably prove its MacBooks are "the greenest on the planet" and should consider toning down its marketing.

Does it mean that Toshiba is the maker of the greenest notebook computers on the planet? After all, Toshiba has the most Gold-rated machines listed in the EPEAT registry. Well, perhaps not. Here's where we wade more deeply into the potential problems with putting too much stock in EPEAT ratings and using the registry as the be all to end all measurement tool for PC and monitor greenness.

Repeat and EPEAT

One of the problems with the EPEAT system is, it seems possible for a vendor to game the system -- particularly because vendors are responsible for self-reporting their products. The Green Electronics Council, or GEC, merely maintains the registry and performs spot-checks on occasion to ensure vendors are being honest.

So, for example, I think it's plausible that a vendor might offer multiple configurations of the same computer or monitor, each one with minute differences that have no real impact on the machine's overall "greeness." The vendor could give each system a slightly different name, then stuff them all into the registry.

As a potential example -- and this is mere speculation, not an accusation -- Toshiba, as I noted, added 20 new Gold-rated notebooks to the EPEAT registry in the past couple of weeks. They have names such as: Satellite A500 PSAP0U, Satellite A500 PSPA3U, Satellite L550 PSLN8U, Satellite L550 PSLP0U, Satellite P500 PSPE0U, Satellite P500 PSPE8U, etc. What's the difference between a Satellite A500 PSAP0U and a Satellite A500 PSPA3U? Toshiba's not alone in this; other vendors such as Sony, HP, Panasonic, and Samsung do it as well.

Additionally, it appears to be up to a vendor to decide when a listing on EPEAT should be archived (that is, removed from the active list of offerings). Some companies, such as HP and Panasonic, have products going back to the middle of 2006. It's not entirely clear to me what the criteria are to keep a product "active" on the list. Does the company still need to sell it? Support it? Have spare parts for it in a warehouse?

What this all adds up to is, the opportunity for a vendor to cram EPEAT full of machines, then brag that it has the most Gold-rated notebooks/PCs/whatever in the world. It may sounds impressive, but does it necessarily prove anything?

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