In a rare but telling change of heart, Apple has reversed its decision to remove 39 of its products from the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry. The move came in response to withering public criticism and warnings that many government entities would stop buying Apple products.

Apple’s reversal was announced in an open letter from Bob Mansfield, Senior VP of Hardware Engineering, which outlined the reasons why Apple now believes its initial decision to leave the EPEAT list to be “a mistake.”

“We’ve recently heard from many loyal Apple customers who were disappointed to learn that we had removed our products from the EPEAT rating system. I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT,” Mansfield’s statement read.

Why the Initial Decision?

The letter did not explain why Apple made the decision to pull its products off of the list to begin with, but made a point to highlight Apple’s continued commitment to the environment.

“It’s important to know that our commitment to protecting the environment has never changed, and today it is as strong as ever,” Mansfield wrote. “Apple makes the most environmentally responsible products in our industry. In fact, our engineering teams have worked incredibly hard over the years to make our products even more environmentally friendly, and much of our progress has come in areas not yet measured by EPEAT.”

“Not yet measured by EPEAT” fits a thread of reasoning that Apple used when the storm surrounding its EPEAT retreat first started brewing.

“Apple takes a comprehensive approach to measuring our environmental impact, and all of our products meet the strictest energy efficiency standards backed by the U.S. government, Energy Star 5.2,” Apple representative Kristin Huguet told The Loop July 11. “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.”

Still, as grumbles and complaints from various municipalities and corporations started getting louder - and cities such as San Francisco called for a halt in purchasing Apple products - Apple found itself in an increasingly untenable situation. Even though Apple requested the removal of its products from EPEAT over the Fourth of July holiday period, when news isn't on most people's front burners, the story wasn’t going away.

Apple Pushing for a New Environmental Standard

Moving forward, Apple seems to be pushing toward updating the EPEAT registry’s standards, focusing on the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard

“We think the IEEE 1680.1 standard could be a much stronger force for protecting the environment if it were upgraded to include advancements like these. This standard, on which the EPEAT rating system is based, is an important measuring stick for our industry and its products,” Mansfield wrote in his letter.

It should be noted that the existing 1680.1 standard is currently in the process of being updated, an effort being led by the Green Electronics Council, the organization that manages the EPEAT registry. If Apple is indeed committed to revising the EPEAT standards and the underlying 1680.1 standard, now is a perfect time to do it.

In the wake of its PR disaster, Apple may lobby hard for a 1680.1 standard that will be more compatible with the way it wants to put devices together.

Rare Public Mistake

This is a rare public mistake for Apple, one that could just as easily have happened within the Steve Jobs era (who, after all, had his own trouble spots with environmentalists). But one can’t help but wonder if Jobs' celebrity aura would have affected the blow-up, Apple’s initial silence, and its subsequent apologetic and very public reversal. 

Everyone makes mistakes, even Apple. But it bears watching to see whether these kind of pratfalls will become more commonplace from a company that pays such careful attention to how it presents itself to the world.