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  • Writer's pictureCarolina MIlanesi

Apple: Streamlining Sustainability For Every Buyer's Perfect Product

Apple put sustainability at the center of its Fall iPhone and Apple Watch event. It did so as it put sustainability into context by showing that you can do what I've been advocating for a long time: doing good and doing well from a business perspective.

Tim Cook opened up the event, saying Apple wants to make a difference as a company and with the products it brings to market. Apple Watch is the first carbon-neutral product that Apple launched, the first step towards its goal to have all Apple products be carbon-neutral by 2030.

It is important to take a moment to look at the steps that Apple is taking to achieve this goal. Apple’s first carbon-neutral products is a milestone in a journey initiated over a decade ago, involving substantial innovation and efforts throughout its global supply chain. In 2020, the company reached carbon neutrality for its worldwide corporate operations and revealed the ambitious "Apple 2030" strategy to achieve carbon neutrality across its entire value chain by 2030. Central to this plan is a drastic 75% reduction of its total carbon emissions from the levels recorded in 2015. It has already diminished emissions by over 45% since 2015, even with revenue growing by over 65% within the same timeframe.

Apple continues to focus on reducing carbon-generating activities, increasing the utilization of renewable energy, and incorporating recycled and renewable materials into its designs. Each product is seen as a chance to lessen emissions through various means, including optimizing energy use in manufacturing and device charging and enhancing material and shipping practices.

Apple didn't just talk about sustainability on stage. It created a video that, in a funny and entertaining way, with Octavia Spencer playing Mother Nature, shared helpful information.

The skepticism that Octavia Spencer's as Mother Nature is displaying is the skepticism that many advocates and critics express on the ESG efforts we have seen from big organizations. Some commentators found the video disingenuous because of the fear expressed by Apple's execs while waiting for Mother Nature. Personally, I feel that what is missed in this opinion is that it is not Mother Nature that scares Apple but rather the time bomb we all face in addressing global warming, as well as the material shortages that will negatively impact the tech industry unless more effort is put into recycling and investing in alternative materials.

Using this video to share data was a smart way to educate a tech audience that is definitely much more interested in gadgets than any sustainability effort. Here is what we learned:

  • Goal to bring Apple's entire carbon footprint to zero by 2030. Current status: all Apple offices, stores, and data centers operate on 100% clean electricity and are carbon-neutral

  • Eliminating all plastic from packaging by the end of next year

  • 100% recycled aluminum used in MacBook, Apple TV, and Apple Watch enclosures

  • Phasing out leather in iPhone cases and Apple Watch bands

  • Over 300 suppliers committed to using 100% clean, renewable electricity

  • Increasing ocean shipping (instead of air) to reduce transportation emissions by 95%

  • Investing in global projects to protect soil, plants, and trees Carbon removal initiatives involving restoring forests and mangroves in locations such as Paraguay, Brazil, Colombia, and Kenya

  • Water usage was reduced by 63 billion gallons.

Whether or not the message and the data will stick with people in the audience and whoever will watch is unclear, it is certainly a good start in getting people to pay more attention to sustainability.

Sustainability has grown to be not just the marketing point but a key business priority driven by the need to be more sustainable because of the state our planet is in, but also driven by increasing regulatory scrutiny on not just the tech industry but every business.

Apple's strategy in sustainability has always been about making the biggest impact by looking at developing new technologies as it did for the smelting of aluminum; looking at alternative materials such as abandoning leather and creating a new fabric called fine woven to replace it and also to some extent, by creating products that retain a high value and therefore remain in use for longer and therefore limit the impact on landfills.

What is encouraging is to see Apple focus on sustainability across the portfolio by providing a buyer with the ability to create a carbon-neutral Apple Watch by mixing and matching the body and carbon-neutral bands. This is important because, as sad as it is, the majority of consumers are still not putting sustainability as a primary purchase drive, so any vendor trying to be more sustainable has to first give them what they want in terms of features and then make the product more sustainable so that as a buyer I can make a sustainable choice and get the device that I most like with the features that I want.

Here is how Apple gets to a carbon-neutral Apple Watch.

Each carbon-neutral Apple Watch model, including specified configurations of the Series 9, SE, and Ultra 2, adhere to stringent criteria, such as being manufactured and used with 100% clean electricity, comprising at least 30% recycled or renewable materials by weight, and reducing air transportation usage in shipping to 50%. This strategy has enabled a minimum of 75% reduction in product emissions for each model. High-quality carbon credits offset residual emissions, resulting in a carbon-neutral product footprint.

The products' carbon-neutral status is certified by SCS Global Services, a reputed environmental standards and certification entity. The manufacturing process of Apple's carbon-neutral Watch models is fully powered by clean electricity by both Apple and its suppliers. These suppliers have also pledged to utilize 100% renewable electricity for all Apple productions by the end of the decade. Apple collaborates globally with manufacturing partners to promote policies favoring the broad adoption of clean energy solutions.

As it has done time and time again, Apple is poised to redefine what consumers consider essential, shifting focus from mere innovation to sustainable technology. The technology giant is anticipating the needs of the consumer and our planet, steering the industry towards a future grounded in responsibility and forward-thinking. It's not just about crafting groundbreaking products anymore; it's about shaping a sustainable future through conscious technology. As Apple takes the lead, it sets a new standard, encouraging the broader tech industry to follow suit, where sustainability isn't just an option but a requirement.

Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.



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