During its annual fall event, Apple announced more than just the iPhone 15 series — the tech giant also took the time to tout its green credentials.
Perhaps most notably, Apple released a video skit showing CEO Tim Cook and other employees joined by Mother Nature, played by Oscar-winning actor Octavia Spencer, for a meeting at its Apple Park headquarters. Over the course of the video, Cook and team attempt to win over an unimpressed Mother Nature by rattling off metrics showing its environmental friendliness across various company efforts — namely materials, electricity and transportation. Apple also used the video to segue into its latest lineup of smartwatches.
“You’re not trying to bribe Mother Nature with Apple swag?” asked a skeptical Mother Nature.
“It’s Apple’s very first carbon-neutral product,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s environmental boss, as she slid the company’s new series of smartwatches forward.
“Hm. I want to see you do more of this,” said Mother Nature.
“You will,” Cook replied.
While Apple has made significant commitments to environmental sustainability, another company has taken a seemingly more genuine approach to sustainability. Fairphone is a Dutch social enterprise that designs and produces smartphones with a focus on ethical practices and improving the lives of workers and miners.
Unlike Apple or Samsung, Fairphone doesn’t necessarily want you to pony up for a new or upgraded phone every year. It’d prefer you repair the existing one you have if there are issues. (Say what?) You can even use a regular screwdriver to open the phone’s internals for repairs, which is far different than the specialty kits needed to dig into iPhones and other premium Android devices. The Fairphone 5‘s modular design lends itself to ease of repairability: The battery is removable, while the camera modules, USB-C port, body and speakers are all individual components, with replaceable parts available to customers.
The Fairphone also comes with five years of warranty, which handily beat the warranties offered by juggernauts like Apple and Samsung. By comparison, iPhones have a one-year warranty period, which can be extended for another two years if you buy Apple Care. Samsung phones have the same coverage as Apple, if you buy the extra two years via Samsung Care Plus.
“Fairphone has never been just about selling electronics: We’re out to change an industry that has improved consumers’ lives while making the world worse — with mountains of e-waste, unsafe mines, corruption, violence, child labor and harrowing factory conditions. We simply don’t accept that these are the necessary or acceptable costs of doing business,” said Eva Gouwens, CEO of Fairphone, in a statement on the company website.
Our take: Apple’s sincerity problem
Apple has made strides in its sustainability efforts, leading the pack of major phone-makers globally. The regular communication of its environmental metrics, its drive to produce carbon-neutral products and growing numbers in supplier commitments are all efforts that deserve acknowledgement, even if Apple’s not perfect.
However, these green initiatives, while significant, are juxtaposed against Apple’s aggressive product launch cycle, raising doubts about the company’s motives and sincerity toward the cause, and whether it’s as environmentally friendly as it continues to boast. With each new iPhone release, tens of millions of people around the world are enticed to upgrade, even if the changes are relatively minor. Add to this Apple’s reluctance to transition to universal ports like USB-C, and one can’t help but wonder about the company’s motivations. Is the green push a genuine commitment or a well-timed marketing strategy to appeal to an increasingly environmentally conscious consumer base? Or both?
If Apple was truly prioritizing the environment, it might encourage extended device use and consider lengthening the time between major releases. By doing so, the company could better demonstrate its commitment to the environment. But at the same time, Apple is a publicly listed company that’s designed to protect and grow its bottom line. What gives?
The challenge for Apple, and any of its peers, will be to strike a balance between business goals and real environmental commitments. Until then, the tech giant remains under the discerning eye of skeptics. Apple’s journey on the green path is still in its early stages, but it’s a journey worth observing.