Apple, as it does every year, has released an environmental report on their negative impact (footprint) for the year past. As Apple is wont to do, ample amounts of self-pats on the back are given, most of which aren’t wholly undeserved. Of course, good environmental practices all too often butt heads with good business practices, and it’s in this conflict that Apple’s commitment to going green has to be questioned, or at least redefined.
Apple’s best accomplishments probably come when talking about their data centers and corporate facilities, and the footprint of the products themselves in use. Apple’s data centers and corporate offices are currently 75 percent powered by renewable energy, with the goal of reaching 100 percent in the near future. Of course, that’s easier for Apple in a lot of ways – green facilities aren’t going to affect profits. If anything, going green will lower energy costs for Apple – good environmental practice meets good business. Apple now has several facilities running on 100 percent renewable energy, and that figures to increase in the future. Unfortunately, that only accounts for 2 percent of Apple’s environmental impact, according to Apple’s own report.
The better news is that Apple products themselves are getting much more efficient. IPS displays, Apple’s new processors, and the MagSafe chargers are all far more energy efficient than their predecessors, which cuts down on the impact of each device dramatically. This is part of why Apple can state that “though our revenue has grown, our greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of revenue have decreased by 21.5 percent since 2008.”
That said, the quote is ridiculous on its face – growth in revenue is wholly irrelevant to the accomplishment of reducing emissions per dollar of revenue. Obviously, Apple’s revenue has been skyrocketing, taking their total emissions upwards along with it. A NY Daily News article cites that Apple’s overall greenhouse gas emissions – the only number that really matters, in terms of sustainability and environmental health – have gone up by 34 percent since last year.
That’s why this quote from Apple’s report is so telling – “We know that the most important thing we can do to reduce our impact on the environment is to improve our products’ environmental performance.” That’s not true, unless you add an extra clause into the sentence. The most important thing Apple can do to meaningfully reduce its footprint is to simply produce fewer units – likely through releasing fewer product updates (maybe a new iPad every two years), and working on creating upgradeable hardware with longer life-cycles.
Until Apple comes up with a way to do that that is more profitable than the status quo, that is not going to happen. So, maybe the quote above should read “We know the most important thing we can do to reduce our impact on the environment [while remaining as profitable as we are now] is to improve our products’ environmental importance.” When environmental concerns and business concerns come to blows, the latter scores an early round knockout more often than not.
Most of Apple’s environmental impact – 66 percent – comes from the combination of manufacturing and transportation. Noticeably, most of Apple’s report dealing with improvements in manufacturing deal with improvements in materials used in their products – important improvements, but improvements that probably belong in the section about the products themselves. Apple does not have much to say about improvements (environmental or human) to the manufacturing and transportation processes themselves, aside from mentioning audits of factories performed and prepared by Apple itself. That’s where the bulk of improvements need to be made, and there’s not much indicating how, or if, those improvements are going to be made in the future. You can read Apple’s report in full here.