This morning, Apple’s outgoing Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, Bob Mansfield, posted a letter on the company’s website. It announced that Apple would be adding its products back to the EPEAT database and re-adopting the ratings standard for its products.

The Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool is a ranking system for customers that allows them to, theoretically, decide between one computer and another based on how environmentally friendly they are. I’ve never personally heard of anyone using a system like this to help them figure out what computer to buy, ever. BUT, there are some very important clients that do use the system to decide whether to buy products from one vendor or another, namely State and Federal governments.

One of the most prominent headline stories after Apple effectively dropped the EPEAT standard was that the city of San Francisco was planning to block further purchases of Apple computers if it didn’t adhere to the standard, which the city requires. San Francisco Director of Department of the Environment Melanie Nutter ended up clarifying that there was no ban being considered, and that it was reaching out to Apple about it. And, it turns out, San Francisco actually only bought $46K worth of Apple computers in 2010 anyway.

But Apple surely didn’t want any other government agencies getting up in arms about it, and there are Federal regulations about buying green products as well.

So, they trotted out Bob Mansfield, weeks from retirement, to take the hit on this one. He outright says that Apple made a mistake when it removed its products from EPEAT and says that they’re coming back. Sure enough, all 40 of Apple’s products are back on the EPEAT registry and all of them have a Gold rating.

As the ever-astute Apple Spotlight points out on Twitter, only 57% of Dell’s products, 47% of HP’s products and 68% of Samsung’s products meet the Gold standard. Apple gets a 100% Gold rating.

But, about that letter. There are a couple of key lines here.

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.

In other words, Apple does stuff to make its products more friendly to the environment that the EPEAT doesn’t even measure, or doesn’t take into account when it issues its ratings. Apple wanted an updated standard that would reflect better on its newer products, which use agressive techniques to keep them thin, like gluing the batteries into the iPad or the Retina MacBook Pro’s glue-sandwich of a screen.

The second is this:

Our relationship with EPEAT has become stronger as a result of this experience, and we look forward to working with EPEAT as their rating system and the underlying IEEE 1680.1 standard evolve.

So, “we’re back with the EPEAT because they agreed to update their ratings system, and lobby to tweak the IEEE 1680.1 standard in a way that is more favorable to our less repairable, but theoretically more usable products.”

When the news dropped this morning, I noticed that Apple had, in fact, already been awarded a Gold rating from EPEAT for its Retina MacBook Pro. The product that ostensibly started the whole issue. Michael DeGusta also pointed out to me that the IEEE 1680.1 standard is already being updated.

But, there is a twist. As iFixit’s Kyle Wiens points out on Twitter, although the Retina MacBook pro has been added to the registry, EPEAT uses a ‘post-declaration verification procedure‘. This means that, while the computer has been added and given a gold rating, it has yet to be verified as such. Apple can add it however they want, but it still needs to be ratified according to the ratings system that EPEAT sets forth, which is based on the ‘outdated’ IEEE 1680.1 standard.

And why would Apple have ditched the EPEAT standard if it didn’t think it was going to have issues with products like the Retina MacBook? It will be interesting to see what happens when it undergoes the verification procedure. EPEAT CEO Robert Frisbee told Fast Company  that it was “likely the MacBook Pro with Retina display will jump the queue and an EPEAT verification of the computer will likely be a priority.”

In a letter at the EPEAT, Frisbee addresses the issue of an updated standard obliquely:

“An interesting question for EPEAT is how to reward innovations that are not yet envisioned with standards that are fixed at a point in time”

Let me shake my translation ball one last time. “Whatever standards we’re going to use to test the Retina MacBook Pro will be updated to take into account Apple’s fancy new manufacturing techniques.”

There are, Frisbee is careful to point out, rare cases where a product is added to the registry, fails to meet standards, and is forced to be removed. Can you see that happening to Apple?