Jul 21, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Apple vows to be carbon neutral by 2030

Illustration of a MacBook perfectly balanced on a fulcrum.

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Apple aims to ensure that within 10 years every product it sells will have a net zero impact on climate change, the tech giant announced Tuesday.

The big picture: The new goal is the latest by global technology companies looking to go big on climate change even while they face growing scrutiny over the main thrust of their businesses, namely antitrust concerns.

Where it stands: Apple has previously announced other climate goals, like powering all its facilities with 100% renewable energy, but this one is notable for its exhaustive nature covering its supply chains and the relatively quick timeline of 10 years.

Why it matters: Apple's biggest carbon footprint comes from the computers, phones and other devices made in manufacturing plants around the world that it doesn’t have direct control over, so this plan will shed light on how to neutralize the climate impact of complex supply chains.

What they’re saying: The coronavirus may delay the rollout of the next iPhone, but it won't slow down Apple’s climate goals. "My concern isn't in not doing it," said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s chief sustainability officer, in an interview with Axios Monday.

  • "It's really important that as businesses are looking forward, they look at climate change as a challenge which they can continue to tackle even in the face of building back."

How it works: By working with its suppliers around the world and using ever-more recycled material for its products, Apple says it can cut 75% of its emissions within 10 years.

  • The remaining 25% it hopes to reduce by forming what it’s calling a “carbon solutions fund,” which will invest money (an amount Apple isn’t disclosing) in natural ways —i.e., planting and then cutting down trees in a sustainable manner — to offset the remaining quarter of emissions.
  • That fund is "meant to have a return to the investor," said Jackson, adding that's the way to tackle climate change, by ensuring a company can make money in it.
  • Company officials say this isn’t the same as engaging in official "carbon offset" programs, wherein people purchase credits to cancel out carbon footprints by ostensibly preventing emissions elsewhere (by, for instance, planting trees).
  • Among other specific developments, it's announcing a new robot the company is calling Dave (to go along with current robot Daisy) that can recover rare earth material from recycled iphones.

What we're watching: Despite President Trump's near complete retreat on the topic, corporations are increasingly competitive with each other on their climate strategies, and tech companies especially so. These pronouncements are often a messy mix of empty rhetoric and varying levels of concrete action.

  • Microsoft announced earlier this year it would be carbon neutral by 2030 and cancel out all its emissions since its 1975 founding.
  • Amazon, which has faced the most criticism for its climate policies from its own employees, said last September it will be carbon neutral by 2040. While 10 years earlier than the Paris Climate Agreement, that goal is fast becoming a laggard in the tech space.

Reality check: What tech companies do on climate change does raise awareness of the topic, considering how consumer-facing these firms are. But the corporate climate goals that arguably matter most are the producers of oil, natural gas and coal, given they're the biggest reasons for climate change.

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