Big brands attract their share of controversy regardless of what they do.  Some of it is driven by the brands themselves and arguably is deserved; some is generated because the brand has grown so large that they become an easy target.  Apple, arguably the biggest brand in the world easily falls into this category. 

Despite the size of Apple they have inspired legions of devoted fans that lap up the latest tech products released by the company.  To them, the idea of having the equivalent Android product is laughable, and even though their iPhone 6 is functioning well, the iPhone 7 is top of the must have list.  This consumer business model together with Apple’s innovation is behind the company’s phenomenal success.  It also creates its share of recycling issues.

Apple’s Sustainability

Apple is the first corporation to receive an A+ for its sustainability efforts by London based InfluenceMap.  The company is striving to become carbon zero with 87% of its global operation using 100% renewable energy.  In May 2015 Apple announced plans to ensure its China based factories, offices, and shops use renewable energy and surplus energy will feed into China’s national grid.

The company also want to protect forests in China.  This will provide a renewable source of paper that will be used to make the packaging for their products.  They are carrying out a smaller scheme in the USA.   When the project goes live it will reduce Apple’s carbon footprint significantly.  This is a footprint which is reducing year on year.  You do not get an A+ for nothing.

To finance this and other green projects the company issued its first green bonds, $1.5bn worth in May this year.  This follows Toyota’s example who issued $1.75bn in green bonds in 2014. 

Recycling Phones

Apple offers a recycling scheme ‘ Apple Renew’ where users of Apple products can take their unwanted phones, iPads, and other products and receive ‘gift card’ discounts.  They pay more for ones that are in a good working condition.  To help them cope with demand they have developed the ‘Liam’ robot which strips down phones in minutes.

This incentive is great but there is a side which is damaging to the environment.   Consider that in 2015 Apple sold 231 million units, and although they do not disclose how many units they recycle, Brightstar, believes they recycle ten million phones a year.  This means that the company is still creating carbon emissions for each of their new devices that are powered by their consumerist business model.

This model is driven by building redundancy into their devices.  So the device will only last for a fixed number of years before performance suffers.  Even Apple users that are not 200% devoted to having the company’s latest tech are locked into the same pattern of replacing perfectly good devices, or devices that would last considerably longer without this deliberate redundancy design element being present.

This model although great for the company’s bottom line is not good for the planet.

When viewed this way, Apple’s sustainability efforts lose their gloss.  What on the surface appears to be wonderful innovation becomes well, with that kind of profit it is the least you can do.

Hopefully, as technology moves forward, they will be able to reduce their footprint to a point where redundancy is no longer an issue.  Until then, Liam is going to be busy but not quite busy enough.


The Guardian

The Daily Telegraph