7.9 C
New York
Friday, February 23, 2024

Apple Sets Climate Goals for 2030, Joins Amazon and Microsoft

The fact that we’re in the middle of a pandemic makes it easy to forget about that other massive global emergency hanging over our heads: the climate crisis. And yet, scientists, scholars, and other Big Thinkers are quick to point out that the pandemic and the climate crisis—along with severe social inequalities—are intimately linked.

Big Tech companies are also fully aware of this, as the hastening growth of the technology sector has exposed its massive carbon footprint, resource-hungry data centers, and not-very-repairable products. In an attempt to counteract some of this impact, Apple announced today that it’s upping its climate pledge. The company revealed a massive plan to become carbon-neutral across its entire business, including manufacturing, by 2030. It also announced a new recycling robot, one that will extract rare-earth metals from one of the most fragile systems in the iPhone.

With this new pledge, Apple is following the announcements of Amazon, Microsoft, and Google, all of which have introduced revised climate-related goals within the past year. “We’re really proud of what we’ve done so far, but we also know that the moment we’re in calls us to meet this generational challenge of climate change, and to accelerate industry-wide change, to show what’s possible,” says Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, and a former administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency.

It remains to be seen how much of Cupertino’s plan will be workable by 2030, and how much of it will be viewed in the future as a savvy public relations stunt. The public commitments made by Apple and other companies sometimes read like a jumble of climate-related buzzwords, difficult to decipher without knowing exactly how these companies plan to neutralize or reduce the usage of dirty energy in their manufacturing or shipping processes. And in a group interview with journalists last week, Jackson offered boilerplate responses to questions about some of the practices Apple has been criticized for in the past, like designing hard-to-fix products and tightly controlling device repairs. Jackson emphasized durability instead, saying “The best repair is when you don’t need to have a repair at all.”

But Apple’s new 10-year road map is still a huge step in the right direction, says Elizabeth Jardim, senior corporate campaigner for Greenpeace USA. “Even before our current administration in the US, the tech sector was sort of a first mover in figuring out how to address its corporate environmental footprint,” Jardim says. “Now we’re seeing all of the big tech companies re-up their climate commitments. I think it’s a kind of recognition that their previous goals haven’t done enough to address climate change. But also, it can’t be these companies alone that put high-impact strategies in place.”

Core Effort

Back in the spring of 2018, Apple announced that its corporate offices, data centers, and retail stores were running on 100 percent renewable energy. Now, Jackson says, the company plans to have a net zero carbon footprint across its entire business, the lifecycle of its products, and its manufacturing supply chain by 2030.

It’s a big initiative, considering how many millions of products Apple produces each year and that the overwhelming majority of the carbon emissions tied to the company come from its suppliers and manufacturers in China. With this new pledge, Apple says 75 percent of its efforts are focused on areas like renewable energy and manufacturing efficiencies, while 25 percent of its efforts are being dedicated to carbon removal through partnerships with forest conservation groups.

Image may contain: Universe, Space, Astronomy, Outer Space, Planet, Night, Outdoors, Moon, and Nature

The WIRED Guide to Climate Change

The world is getting warmer, the weather is getting worse. Here's everything you need to know about what humans can do to stop wrecking the planet.

By Katie M. Palmer and Matt Simon

Apple’s close relationship with and influence over its many suppliers might be the most impactful. The iPhone maker said that it now has commitments from more than 70 suppliers to use 100 percent renewable energy for Apple manufacturing—which, if achieved, would be the equivalent of taking 3 million cars off the road each year, avoiding 14.3 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. The company has also partnered with the US-China Green Fund, a private equity fund, and will commit $100 million in energy-efficiency projects on the supply side.

On the carbon removal side, Apple says it’s working with environmental funds like Conservation International to invest in forest restoration. One of these projects includes a “vital mangrove ecosystem” in Colombia; another is in the savannah grasslands of Kenya. Yup: Apple is getting into trees.

Apple has also been working on low-carbon design and materials innovations, including the new carbon-free aluminum smelting process used in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. The company claims its aluminum innovations alone reduced the company’s carbon footprint by 4.3 million metric tons in 2019. And it says that all of Apple’s products released within the past year are made with some recycled materials, though that doesn’t mean they’re all made of 100 percent recycled materials.

There’s a Bot for That

Part of Apple’s push towards recyclability in recent years has involved robots—starting with “Liam” in 2016 and followed in 2018 by “Daisy”—which disassemble more than a million iPhones per year in such a way that the phone’s innards can be reused. Now, there’s “Dave,” a new robot that will disassemble the Taptic Engine of the iPhone, the part of the device that simulates motion and vibration when you hard press on the phone’s display. Dave is designed to recover rare earth-magnets and other materials from the tiny component.

Finally, the company says it’s launching an Impact Accelerator, which will be part of its recently announced $100 million investment fund in racial equity and justice initiatives. This, too, is a Lisa Jackson-led project. The Impact Accelerator is supposed to support minority-owned businesses and solutions that could have a positive impact for communities disproportionately affected by climate change.

How Green Is Silicon Valley?

Apple's ambitious climate-related goals are hardly a new project for the company—it's been working on this particular plan for years now—and it isn’t alone in announcing new pledges. Last September, Amazon laid out a new plan to use 80 percent renewable energy by 2024, run entirely on renewable energy by 2030, and have the company be carbon-neutral by 2040, 10 years ahead of the Paris Accord’s 2050 goal. More recently, it said it would reach its 100 percent renewable energy goal by 2025.

That same week last September, Google announced its largest corporate purchase of renewable energy ever, increasing the company’s commitment to match its annual electricity consumption with renewable energy. It’s worth noting that, around the same time, tens of thousands of employees from Google, Amazon and other prominent tech companies were striking as a means of pushing their corporations towards more aggressive sustainability goals.

In January 2020, Microsoft went even further and declared that “net zero” wasn’t enough. Instead, the company said it would be carbon negative by 2030, effectively pledging to go back in time to “remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.” And Facebook has committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions, while 86 percent of the social media company’s business operations are now powered by renewable energy.

This image may contain Electronics, Phone, Cell Phone, and Mobile Phone

The WIRED Guide to the iPhone

Its influence goes far beyond other phones—the infrastructure that made the iPhone also enabled drones, smart-home gadgets, wearables, and self-driving cars.

By David Pierce and Lauren Goode

But the devil sometimes lies in the details, Greenpeace’s Jardim points out—particularly when it comes to the notion of carbon removal or offsets. The footprints of these tech companies continue to grow even as they’re making new climate pledges. (In the Facebook example above: Facebook’s electricity usage in its data centers has surged even as it has committed to renewable energy.) In an ideal world, Jardim says, big corporations would focus on not allowing carbon into the atmosphere in the first place as much as they do carbon offsets or carbon removal measures. A solution like planting more trees seems like a “very socializable answer,” but it’s also a complicated one.

“Sometimes people think, ‘Oh, we’ll just suck it out of the atmosphere, it’s easy to do that,’” Jardim says. “From Greenpeace’s perspective, that’s not easy to do. It’s very expensive.” Greenpeace has gone as far as calling carbon offsetting plans “essentially PR plans.”

In other words, as corporations upgrade their climate initiatives, they should look to drastically reduce their overall reliance on energy from fossil fuels and their carbon emissions, not just cancel it out. Jardim uses Amazon as an example: The company has pledged that 50 percent of all Amazon shipments will be “net carbon zero” by 2030, a goal that will be partly enabled with fleets of EVs and the use of biofuels. But if the other 50 percent of Amazon shipments still rely heavily on energy from fossil fuels or possibly even more so, the pledge is less impactful, Jardim says.

Related Articles

Latest Articles