Apple wants to improve the carbon offset marketon April 18, 2024 at 16:53 Computerworld

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Apple has published its annual environmental report detailing its progress towards becoming completely carbon neutral by 2030. While critics will, of course, condemn the report as “greenwash,” it’s hard to identity many other big firms working quite as hard to be so transparent across the impact of their business.

In the report’s introduction, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy, and social initiatives, confirms that Apple is working in multiple directions to achieve its 2030 target.

“The proof of Apple’s commitment to climate action is in our progress: We’ve slashed emissions by more than half, all while serving more users than ever before,” said Jackson. “More hard work is ahead of us, and we’re focused on harnessing the power of innovation and collaboration to maximize our impact.”

Energy from sun and wind

To get there, the company is making deep investments in wind and solar power, new recycling, and materials process technology, and seeking to build sustainability right inside its product designs. It means climate action is on the agenda at every product design meeting, and means the packaging it uses is constantly being optimized to reduce the cost of freight.

It’s important to understand the scope Apple has in this.

The company is already carbon neutral across its own business operations, But in the last few years, it has been working with a rapidly growing number of its own suppliers to achieve the same goal in product manufacturing. More than 320 Apple suppliers have committed to using renewable energy, the company says, while more than 20% of the materials used in Apple products came from recycled sources. Its recently introduced MacBook Air is made with over 50% recycled material.

Recycling for the rest of us

Apple seems to agree that climate justice is also social justice

That’s why it matters that the company wants to use 100% recycled rare earth materials in its products. The iPhone 15 range uses 100% recycled cobalt in smartphone batteries. These valuable materials are often described as “conflict minerals,” because they come from active war zones and are often mined at gunpoint by forced labor — including kids. I suppose that Just as Find My iPhone makes stealing Apple’s phones less attractive, dramatic reductions in demand for such minerals might well make even forced labor less profitable. 

Apple wants carbon offset transparency

The company has lots of reasons to take pride in much of what it has achieved to mitigate the consequences of running its business, but not every process or use can be avoided or reduced. To make up for this, Apple makes big use of carbon credits.

A lot of people don’t have much faith in carbon credits as a route to environmental sustainability, which Apple seems to recognize. Not only does it call its use of these an “interim solution,” but stresses that its priority is to reduce emissions rather than rely on that kind of mitigation. 

To me, this means Apple’s reliance on carbon credits is the weakest link in the Apple 2030 story. But the fact the company sees it as an interim solution and its investment of over $200 million in high quality offset projects such as those in Africa’s Chyulu Hills or in Guizhou, China show tangible recognition of this. 

Apple also gains some brownie points for transparency on its use of carbon offsets because it has published an extensive white paper explaining its approach in a great deal more depth. This includes some key recommendations to perhaps improve the quality of such projects on an industry-wide basis. 

We need standards of trust

Apple wants more independent transparency of carbon offset projects, calls for more coordination and collaboration around them, and better national and international policies to support rapid scale up of carbon removal.

“We believe that a market gap still exists for a centralized transparent process to review individual carbon projects against agreed-upon standards,” the Apple white paper says. That’s as close as you can get to conceding that many of the carbon credit schemes being run and relied upon by big companies now might not actually be making a difference. 

But what is at least somewhat reassuring is Apple’s stated willingness to work to improve the quality of carbon offsets, and the urgency with which it seems to see these goals. “We recognize that the current carbon markets aren’t equipped to deal with the scale and integrity of impact needed to achieve a 1.5℃ pathway and remove tens of billions of tons of carbon by 2050,” the white paper states. 

“We intend to work to improve the quality of these markets. We’re also aiming to build a pipeline of projects that meet the highest-quality standards that can scale to meet the growing demand for nature-based removals. And we’ll continue to progress our goal of building much-needed solutions for high-quality engineered carbon removals to complement these efforts.”

Our planet is in crisis

Overall, this year’s Apple environmental report shows a company that has moved far beyond lip service to try to tackle the big challenge all of us share today. “Our planet is in crisis, and without urgent action on climate change, we won’t be able to keep global warming to 1.5℃, and avoid the worst climate change impacts,” Apple said.

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