Updated: Aug 20, 2021
As part of our #EarthDayAtTech360, we checked out various technology and technology-enabled companies to highlight some incredible efforts that they have taken to show their commitment to sustainability and to protecting the environment. Earth Day started in 1970 and every year since, the world comes together to demonstrate support for environmental awareness and protection on April 22.
Credit: Charlie Shoemaker for Conservation International
In the second entry in our Earth Day coverage, we take a look at Apple and the company’s sustainability initiatives, including the most recent announcement of its new Restore Fund, a $200 million carbon removal initiative in partnership with Goldman Sachs and Conservation International. The fund aims to remove 1 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide from the environment annually while demonstrating a financial model that can help to scale up investment in forest restoration.
Apple published their 2021 Environmental Progress Report last week as well, and in the opening letter, Lisa Jackson, Vice President, Environment, Policy & Social Initiatives had this to say: “In a year like no other, Apple has continued to work with a global network of colleagues, companies, and advocates to further our efforts to make our environmental work a force for good in people’s lives—and give the communities most impacted by climate change a seat at the table. (..) As a company, we moved ahead with greater urgency than ever before to create a stronger, healthier future for our planet and her people. In 2020, that meant real progress in our fight against climate change.”
And it seemed like Apple really did make plenty of progress. Apple’s corporate operations became carbon neutral, using 100% renewable energy for its stores, offices and data centers, with a commitment to extending that to its entire carbon footprint by 2030. There are a few components to the plan that Apple is focusing on; the first being low-carbon designs, with Apple using recycled and renewable materials in its products, while also making sure that said products are energy efficient.
The second component builds on that, with consideration about energy efficiency within Apple’s buildings as well as within their manufacturing. Renewable electricity is the third part, and while Apple’s own operations are already using 100% renewable energy, Apple is planning to extend that to the supply chain for its suppliers.
The last part is addressing emissions within Apple’s carbon footprints by moving to low-carbon fuels and such. With all those parts working in tandem, Apple expects a 75% reduction in its carbon footprint from the 2015 peak. But what about that 25% left? Well, that’s what the Restore Fund is addressing.
Apple expects to be 100% carbon-free by 2030, from the extraction of raw materials to making the product and assembling it, as well as shipping from the place of production to the end-user and even the recycling of the product once it reaches the end of its lifespan.
From 2015 to 2021, Apple has already shown a 40% reduction in its carbon footprint from the peak in 2015, and part of that is thanks to the company’s recycling efforts. One notable use of technology and robotics is the Daisy and Dave robots, with Daisy to remove and sort components from devices, resulting in more components being recovered and Dave recovers rare-earth elements, steel and tungsten from disassembled components. Each Daisy robot can disassemble up to 1.2 million iPhone devices per year, and in addition to that, 15 different iPhone models can be disassembled by the same Daisy robot, so there’s no need for different disassembly lines.
Traditional electronics recycling often relies on the shredding of devices, and as a result, the quality is degraded and the amount of recovered materials is smaller because the material gets mixed together. With Daisy, materials are kept separate and as a result, the materials can be recovered at higher rates and higher quality, resulting in fewer new materials required.
Packaging also constitutes a good amount of waste though, and Apple has gone all in, with 100% of the wood fiber used in packaging coming from recycled or responsible sources. In four years, Apple has also reduced the amount of plastic in its packaging by 58%, with molded fiber trays for devices and recycled fiber bags instead of plastic shopping bags.
The amount of effort poured into ensuring Apple’s carbon footprint is completely neutral is incredible, and with eye-watering amounts like the US$4.7 billion Green Fund that funds carbon removal and clean energy production projects, it’s little wonder that Apple is confident the company is on track to hit its 2030 target.