The Apple iPhone, one of the most ubiquitous tech devices in the world (one billion+ sold and counting) is getting just a little more sustainable. The annual unveiling of a new iPhone is Apple’s biggest day of the year, and every aspect of the event is dissected by the world’s press and the global legion of Apple fans. So it was interesting that in this month’s launch of the iPhone's X, XS and XR, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives (formerly the administrator in charge of the US Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama) was given a five minute platform to talk about the tech giants work with sustainability. This and an increased focus on green issues in their marketing and messaging does seem to show a greater effort to reduce the vast environmental footprint of their electronic devices. So what exactly are Apple doing?
In April of this year, Apple today announced its global facilities are powered with 100 percent clean energy. This achievement includes retail stores, offices, data centres and co-located facilities in 43 countries — including the United States, the United Kingdom, China and India. The company also announced nine additional manufacturing partners have committed to power all of their Apple production with 100 percent clean energy, bringing the total number of supplier commitments to 23.
Apple’s renewable energy projects include Apple Park, Apple’s new headquarters in Cupertino, which is now the largest LEED Platinum-certified office building in North America. It is powered by 100 percent renewable energy from multiple sources, including a 17-megawatt onsite rooftop solar installation and four megawatts of biogas fuel cells, and controlled by a microgrid with battery storage. It also gives clean energy back to the public grid during periods of low occupancy.
New supplier commitments confirmed this year include Arkema, the designer of high-performance bio-based polymers, which manufactures for Apple at its facilities in France, the United States and China. And DSM Engineering Plastics, which manufactures polymers and compounds in the Netherlands, Taiwan and China that are used in many Apple products, including connectors and cables.
And we can see this work having arrived in the Apple supply chain this month, with the confirmation from Jackson ( @lisapjackson ) that the iPhone XR and iPhone X will use 32% bio-based plastic in their frames. The speaker enclosures of the two new models will also include 35% post-consumer recycled plastic.
They are also encouraging users to recycle their older phones, and have developed Daisy, a robot that can dissemble 200 old iPhones an hour to reclaim materials.
An Apple statement from earlier this year; “There are a lot of valuable materials inside old devices that are perfect for making new products. The challenge is that recovering them is extraordinarily complex and hard to do efficiently. So we’ve put our passion for innovation into piloting new recycling technologies. With advancements like Daisy, our newest disassembly robot, we can recover more materials, and at a higher quality.”
One example Jackson gave in this month's launch was recycling the tin used on the main logic board – which will “prevent the mining of 10,000 tons of tin ore in a single year”.
The Apple business model seems to have been based, at least in part, on upgrading your new phone when a new version comes out. But Jackson’s message was a little different; “Because they last longer, you can keep using them. And keeping using them is the best thing for the planet.”
Jackson also touched upon the 'closed-loop supply chain', an idea first explored in their 2017 sustainability report – where “products are made using only renewable resources or recycled material to reduce the need to mine materials from the earth.”
Editor's View: There’s still plenty of work to do for Apple, the vast majority of its old phones are still not recycled, many of its physical products are non-upgradable and there’s significant questions over its mining practices of cobalt and other precious metals in Africa to name just some of their challenges. But the prominence given to Lisa Jackson, does show a new emphasis on sustainable practices and we will be track closely the work that Apple are doing, particularly when it comes to bio-based and other new materials.
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