Apple Saving the Environment by Being Cheap

A credulous report on the tech giant's altruism.

Engadget (“Apple says selling new iPhones without power adapters will save 861,000 tons of metal“) dutifully reprints an Apple press release:

Apple says its decision to stop bundling power adapters with products such as the iPhone 12 will save 861,000 tons of copper, zinc and tin. The resulting smaller packaging for iPhone 12 allowed the company to ship the device more efficiently as well. Shipping pallets are each able to carry up to 70 percent more iPhone 12 boxes, according to Apple.

The company made the claims in its 2021 Environmental Progress Report, which covers the 2020 fiscal year. Last year, Apple reduced its CO2 emissions from 25.1 million tons in 2019 to 22.6 million. It also slashed energy use by 13.9 million kWh.

“As a company, we moved ahead with greater urgency than ever before to create a stronger, healthier future for our planet and her people,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives said in the report’s opening letter. “In 2020, that meant real progress in our fight against climate change. Apple became carbon neutral for our worldwide operations, and we committed to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 for our entire footprint — from our supply chain to the use of the products we make. Those same products now use more recycled materials than ever, like the 40 percent recycled content in the MacBook Air with Retina display, and the 99 percent recycled tungsten we now use in iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series 6.”

The report notes the work taking place at Apple’s Material Recovery Lab in Texas to recover materials such as rare earth elements, steel, and tungsten from recycled iPhones. Apple says that one metric ton of components that its disassembly robot Daisy removes from iPhones has as much gold and copper as 150 metric tons of mined ore. The company also said that 39,000 metric tons of e-waste was kept away from landfill last year.

Apple’s M1 chip is designed to be more power efficient, and the company says using the processor in the Mac Mini cut down the system’s overall carbon footprint by 34 percent. Meanwhile, due in part to switching to a more energy-efficient power adaptor, the 8th-generation iPad requires 66 percent less energy than the Energy Star rating requirement, Apple claims. Over the last 12 years, Apple has reduced average energy use in its products by over 70 percent.

That Apple’s products are becoming more energy-efficient is good new. But, c’mon. They stopped including power adapters (which they sell from anywhere from $19 to $69) and earbuds ($19 to $249) because it saves them massive amounts of money in manufacturing and shipping costs, not to save the environment. And, since people will now have to buy those accessories separately (whether from Apple, Amazon, or elsewhere) the actual carbon footprint will almost certainly be greater than if Apple had included them to begin with.

FILED UNDER: Economics and Business, Science & Technology
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. So their solution is to make buying an iPhone less convenient and, once you spend the $$$$ necessary to buy a new power adapter. more expensive.

    Nice work there Apple

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  2. Teve says:

    That Apple’s products are becoming more energy-efficient is good new. But, c’mon. They stopped including power adapters (which they sell from anywhere from $19 to $69) and earbuds ($19 to $249) because it saves them massive amounts of money in manufacturing and shipping costs, not to save the environment. And, since people will now have to buy those accessories separately (whether from Apple, Amazon, or elsewhere) the actual carbon footprint will almost certainly be greater than if Apple had included them to begin with.

    Disagree. If I bought an iPhone tomorrow I wouldn’t have to buy a power adapter because I’ve got so many of those blocks and lightning cables lying around here. And a car adapter. I wouldn’t have to buy any earbuds because I’ve got two sets of earbuds, and some Sennheisers, and some Soundcore noise canceling headphones. I expect most people in the market for a new iPhone already have similar things too.

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  3. James Joyner says:

    @Teve: It’s true that a lot of legacy customers have power adapters and the like. But the one that came with my iPhone 11 ProMax is way better than the older ones—it’s much faster-charging. Beyond that, as @Doug Mataconis notes, they’re charging just as much for less.

    Since they can almost surely get away with it, it’s a smart business move. But let’s not pretend it was some grand, humanitarian gesture.

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  4. Sleeping Dog says:

    Also Apple is notorious for changing the connection interfaces on devices requiring a dongle to connect the legacy accessory. For wireless charging, it would be as simple as a line of code.

    This is like the Hewlett Packard support tech telling me that a problem that didn’t let me use the numeric keypad and type words without turning the keypad on and off was a feature.

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  5. CSK says:

    The “cheap” Apple iPhone is $699. The top-of-the line is $1499. At least that was the case in 2019.

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  6. Teve says:

    @James Joyner: I never said anything about a grand humanitarian gesture, it’s obvious they did it for profit, but in my two years working for one of the major cell carriers, 85% of the iPhones I sold were upgrades and only 15% were new. This is almost certainly going to reduce e-waste.

    Also, those robots Apple built to strip tungsten and copper etc from old phones is a net plus.

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  7. Teve says:

    @CSK: that was for the 11s, the 12’s went up in price a bit for two reasons, OLED screens on all models instead of just the Pros, and 5G antennas.

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  8. Teve says:

    @Sleeping Dog: the dongle to go from 3.5mm to Lightning is $3.50 generic or $9 Apple brand, but they’ve sold about 200 million sets of AirPods so it’s not an issue for those customers.

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  9. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m always amused by questions like this. Is corporation X, or individual Y, doing action Z for profit or altruism? Who cares? In any case, motive is always plural, there is never a single, solitary, un-nuanced motive. Who, what, where and when are not the same as why. There can be solid, simple answers to who, what, where and when. Person, object, location, time.

    Why is not binary. Why is a rabbit hole you go down without ever finding a bottom.

    In this case, of course profit is a motivator. Also, concern for PR. And genuine concern for the planet. How can I know this? Because it was multiple individuals, each with their own set of motivations, who contributed to the decision. I can guarantee you, by virtue of my psychic powers, that at least one of the decision makers was at least partly motivated by a desire to perform a seemingly altruistic act in the hopes of getting laid. At least some of the motivation will have been, ‘showing my kids that I am too a good environmentalist, dammit.’ Someone in the decision chain will have thought it would please God. Someone will have a completely absurd motivation based on confusion and ignorance.

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @James Joyner:

    they’re charging just as much for less.

    That’s been their business model for as long as I can remember. You’re just figuring it out now?

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  11. Teve says:

    By the way, if anybody wants a decent mid range Android phone, take a look at the A series from Samsung. Really great price/performance ratio.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Reynolds: “In this case, of course profit is a motivator. Also, concern for PR. And genuine concern for the planet.” And don’t forget potential stabilization of costs for raw materials subject to great price volitility. That it happens to be a good thing for the planet is a welcome bonus in my mind.

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  13. Michael Cain says:

    What’s the status of the EU’s adoption of USB-C as a mandatory charging standard?

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  14. Kathy says:

    Apple gets away with it because it has a large cult following.

    In the name of the Apple, the Woz, and the Holy Jobs.

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  15. Teve says:

    @Kathy: I’m seriously thinking about an iPhone 13 as long as Cook doesn’t back down on the privacy and tracking issues. Facebook is throwing fits about it, but it’s not like they can forgo iOS. Google was hoping to sidestep the issue with FLoC but errbody hates FLoC.

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  16. MarkedMan says:

    @CSK: The cheapest iPhone is the SE, at $399. Not sure where you are getting the $699 number.

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  17. HarvardLaw92 says:

    * squints curiously*

    Unless they’re now actually manufacturing fewer of these now sold seperately accoutrements as a result, which I somehow doubt, they haven’t reduced a thing besides their product cost.

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