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Apple – are they SERIOUS about being green with iPhone 14?

We hear a lot about Apple and their environmental goals. But are they truly invested?

Apple Park and the environment

Board level

Apple is, first and foremost, a company. A very successful, and profitable company at that. As such, it means their first concerns will always be to the board and their shareholders.

We have reached a tipping point now, where customers of tech companies, like Apple, are expecting a certain level of environmental awareness. Apple, as we know, are the masters of marketing.

They make it seem that your iPhone that you have just bought, is completely recyclable, so as to ease your consumer conscience next year, and the year after, as you & I continually buy new iPhones. But it that actually the case?

Judging a box by it wrapper

In 2012, Apple made a huge song and dance about the fact that chargers were no longer being shipped with iPhones. Claiming that most buyers would already have a charger, it seemed a pragmatic move on behalf of Apple. They also let us know, that by not including the charger;

“70% more devices can fit on a shipping pallet on their way to users, allowing the company to stock shelves faster and reduce yearly carbon emissions by 2 million metric tons.”

But, conversely, that same year, Apple began shipping all new iPhones with a Lightning to USB-C cable instead of the older Lightning to USB-A connector. This new cable was incompatible with two billion chargers already on the market. Users, then, had to buy new chargers, ironically, adding to the e-waste situation they were trying so hard to avoid. Not including a charger with every phone, probably helped the bottom line on the profit & loss accounts…but did it, I wonder, help the environment as much?

Carbon emissions & iPhone

Apple estimates that every iPhone 14 will create 61kg of carbon emissions through its lifetime. Fact.

You can charge your iPhone as responsibly as you can, during the night, and even drawing from solar energy, but, 79% of that waste, will have occurred before you ever lay hands on it. 79% of that carbon footprint will happen in the manufacture of your iPhone. Those figures are even on Apple’s own environment page.

61kgs does not sound like an awful lot, does it? In the scheme of things, that is a tiny number. The thing to remember is, that when a company the size of Apple makes a small ripple, the wave it creates is massive.

Apple creates millions of iPhones every year. Without carbon offsetting, in 2021, Apple’s gross emissions were 23.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. Not kilograms – but tons. 70% of that figure came from the making of their flagship product – the iPhone.

FOMO

Fear of missing out, is one of the marketeers trump cards.

The biggest way that Apple could slash their carbon footprint each year, is by reducing the number of new products they bring to market. Macs are probably not as much to blame. People tend to hold on to their Macs for longer, and rarely renew annually. However, the same is not true with iPhone.

This year, more than most, the improvements, certainly to the non-Pro iPhones, were incremental at best. But because of peer pressure, or simply because there was a newer model available, not to be left out, folks traded-in. In truth, the improvements over their existing 12’s and 13’s may were barely perceivable, but, they wanted to keep up and be on trend.

Right to repair

I don’t think I’d be overstepping the mark, to say that Apple could make a considerable dent in their carbon emissions, simply by making devices that are easier to repair or upgrade.

Macs, running Apple silicon, can no longer be upgraded. In turn, that means, a Mac that may have been able to see out a few years more service with new RAM, is dumped in favour of a new Mac, thereby creating more e-waste.

The Right to Repair programme was merely a nod, to be seen to be doing the right thing. Having seen the huge flight cases these repair kits get shipped in, and the overly complex nature of the repairs themselves, most ‘normal’ folks are never going to try taking on repairs themselves. But, in the eyes of the world, Apple is now offering an at home repair service, and sustainability.

The spaceship

Apple spent four years and over $5 billion building the spaceship-themed Apple Park HQ. It is claimed to be the ‘greenest building on the planet”. All that cost and effort, yet their iPhones still churn out 61kgs of carbon waste per unit!

Companies, such as Apple, love to claim they are carbon-neutral. Apple, as a company, has been since 2020, and they are aiming all their products to be carbon-neutral as well by 2030. How is that achievable? Carbon credits…

To explain, when large companies ‘go-green’, they don’t make their companies greener, but pay someone else to offset their pollution with carbon credits.

So, although Apple continues to generate vast amounts of harmful CO2, by sponsoring enough environmental initiatives that, that, in theory, will neutralise the companies impact.

Along with Goldman Sachs, and Conservation International, in 2021, Apple initiated the Restore Fund, to further work on carbon reduction. The take-away from this collaboration was that Apple, in 2021, made a donation of, $200 million to the fund. In that same year, their turnover was £394.1 billion. The profit? Oh, that was £170 billion. So, if my basic maths stack up, that is around a 0.1% contribution towards carbon waste.

In real terms, that equates to someone whose take home is $50,000 per year, slipping $60 in the donation box. Then, after that massive donation, they tell all and sundry how altruistic they are.

Again, I come back to the point that with a company, the size of Apple, anything they do makes a difference. Although $200 million is a big sum of money, it is only a tiny amount in relative terms.

Carbon credits – do they work?

Many are sceptical whether carbon credits are actually effective, or merely an exercise in vanity.

50% of consumers listed sustainability as one of their top five criteria when making purchasing decisions. So, being environmentally friendly, or at least appearing to be, is big business.

GEEP of Canada, is one of Apple’s largest recycling partners. In 2020, they recycled over 100,000 iPhones, which were marked as ‘for disposal’. You’d imagine that Apple would applaud such a move. However, their actual response was by filing a lawsuit against GEEP instead (Washington Post).

Not all bad

Although I’m convinced, profit will always come first, I am not saying that Apple are not trying to make some good changes.

The company has plans to spend $4.7 billion in green bonds to sponsor clean energy development. And, 110 of its worldwide manufacturing partners have moved to completely renewable energy sources.

More recycled materials are being used in their products as well. The Cupertino-based company says that almost 20 percent of all materials used in its products in 2021 were recycled.

The company deserves some credit for their efforts in using more recycled materials, investing in renewable energy, and taking steps to reduce the company’s carbon footprint as a whole. But don’t overlook the fact, that these steps, also helps their PR team create outstanding headlines on their press releases.

Wrapping up

Am I just a hypocrite? Possibly. Only yesterday, I wrote about my new iPhone 14 Pro. But…I have not thrown out my iPhone 12, or even traded it in. I still own it. I have never thrown away a Mac – all my old Mac’s are stored in a cupboard, in many instances, in their original boxes.

I’m no saint. I like tech, I like new things, and I like buying new gadgets. Probably my biggest impact on the environment is my love of new tech. But, more and more now, I do find myself at least considering my actions today, in hope of creating a fractionally better tomorrow.

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