Can we stop pretending that a few green-tinted presentation slides and some recycled gold make the new iPhone in any way sustainable?
As the dust settles on yet another Apple launch event, I can’t help but wonder when tech companies are going to wake up and realize that plastic-free packaging and some recycled materials don’t make them or their products good for the planet. For sure, every little bit helps, and small actions by big companies like Apple do make a significant difference. But let’s get serious for a second here. If Apple really cared about sustainability and the environment, they wouldn’t fly a bunch of people out to a virtual launch event, and the new iPhone 14 wouldn’t exist.
why? Because no launch event + no new iPhone = no environmental impact. It’s as simple as that.
Apple estimates that every single iPhone 14 will create 61kg of carbon emissions throughout its lifetime. Of these emissions, 79% are created during the production process. It doesn’t matter how eco-friendly the shipping is or whether you charge your phone using solar and wind; 79% of the carbon emissions from the iPhone 14 will come into existence before you even hold it in your hand. You can see these figures for yourself on the beautifully vibrant and green’Environment‘ page of the Apple website.
To most people, 61kg of CO2 may not seem like a lot. But as Apple states itself, they produce millions of units, and so the numbers add up fast. In fact, Apple’s gross emissions (without carbon offsets) totaled 23.2 million metric tons of carbon dioxide for the year 2021 (notice the shift from kg to tons). Of these emissions, approximately 70% came directly from the manufacturer of what was then considered Apple’s latest and greatest products.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying we shouldn’t have new tech or that Apple shouldn’t ever release a better iPhone. What I’m saying is, if Apple actually wanted to lower its carbon footprint, it would have held off releasing a bunch of new devices, most of which offer only a marginal improvement on the generation before. The iPhone 14 in particular is one of the smallest year-on-year upgrades to the iPhone since launch, if not the smallest one yet. And even then, people with perfectly fine iPhone 11s, 12s, and 13s will look at the iPhone 14 as something upgrade-worthy, simply because of the incremental number on the label. Not launching an iPhone 14 would have given out a stronger message: your iPhone 13 is perfectly fine for another year at least, and there is nothing they could add to what is still a great product.
Better yet, if Apple actually wanted to lower its carbon footprint, how about releasing devices that can be upgraded without needing to be replaced or recycled each time? Not flying people across the world wouldn’t go amiss either, as hands-on events could go local post-event while the main keynote remains virtual with its beautiful production.
“But what about all the good stuff Apple is doing for the environment, like investing in carbon removal and using renewable energy to power its offices?”
As far as eco initiatives go, Apple is definitely one of the tech companies that at least appears to be trying to offset some of its environmental impacts. As a company, they claim to have been carbon-neutral since 2020, and by 2030, they hope that all their products will be too. If you want me to clap and praise Apple for doing what a corporation of its size and influence should be doing as a minimum for the environment, then I’m sorry to disappoint you.
I’m sure there are people already in the comments waiting to tell me how stupid I am and that I better not use a smartphone or make any impact on the environment myself otherwise, I’m just a hypocrite.
And maybe I am because I like tech, I like new things, and I like buying stuff. But at least I recognize and admit that my consumerism is where I have the biggest impact on the environment; not the fact I choose to buy a phone made with 100% recycled gold wire in its camera or a laptop shipped with responsible packaging. These things are nice to have, but they aren’t solving the bigger problem.
Until manufacturing the new iPhone becomes a carbon-neutral process, the most sustainable phone is still the one in your pocket, and Apple is fully aware of this.