With iPhone 15 launched tomorrow, Apple challenged over environmental action
11 September 2023, immediate use
Marking the launch of the new iPhone15, UK campaigning charity Population Matters has condemned Apple for releasing “a product no one needs, at a cost to the environment no one can afford”. Reviewing Apple’s latest environmental report, (1) the campaigners have highlighted, among other impacts, carbon emissions, water usage, mineral extraction and e-waste from producing more than half-a-million iPhones a day. (2) The group also condemned the company for driving unsustainable consumption through its marketing and annual product releases.
- Apple’s carbon footprint is greater than that of more than 100 nation states. (3)
- While Apple has recently drawn plaudits for withdrawing opposition to right-to-repair legislation and taken steps to increase repair options for its products, it continues to offer customers upgrade finance schemes encouraging them to buy new phones annually. (4)
- Apple’s supply chain uses more than 150 billion gallons of water a year: more than a third of its corporate use comes from areas at high water risk. (5)
- The raw materials and components used in Apple products are transported from more than 75 countries. (6)
- Only a fifth of the materials in Apple products are recycled or renewable. (7)
- The cost of a new iPhone could pay the salary of a midwife in Bangladesh for four months. (8)
- Apple’s estimated marketing spend of $2.7bn in 2021 could meet all water needs for sanitation and hygiene in the 46 UN-designated least-developed countries. (9)
- Marketing madness: villains in movies aren’t allowed to use iPhones. (10)
Population Matters Head of Campaigns Alistair Currie, says:
“Another year, another product no one needs, at a cost to the environment no one can afford. Just because what Apple sells doesn’t belch out smoke or drive orangutans from their homes doesn’t mean it’s squeaky green. When a company has the carbon footprint of a country, we can’t give them a free pass because there are others that are worse.
“Environmental responsibility isn’t reducing packaging with one hand and selling more packages with the other. More products, more sales, more customers and more growth is destroying our planet. It is environmental insanity. That’s Apple’s model and that’s what we’ve got to stop accepting as ‘just business’.”
Population Matters’ iCon report, published earlier this year, unpacks the reality behind the environmental claims made by Apple. It details how advertising and marketing drive unsustainable consumption levels, and exposes the techniques Apple employs to persuade people to buy its products, from vast advertising spends to packaging which looks good in unboxing videos. (11) It then examines the environmental impacts of producing, marketing, distributing and, eventually, discarding iPhones, including:
- carbon emissions from the data centres required to process targeted digital advertising, on which Apple spent $65m in 2020; (12)
- biodiversity impacts of mineral extraction; (13)
- depletion of water supplies; (14)
- the carbon footprint of distribution and transport of raw materials and components (15)
- energy use by recycling facilities; (16)
- potential scarcity in rare minerals and elements needed for developing alternative energy, as a result of their use in consumer products. (17)
The report applauds Apple’s keynote pledge to be carbon neutral by 2030, but demonstrates how carbon offsetting and alternative energy use themselves carry an environmental cost. (18).
The iCon report concludes by calling on Apple and other smartphone companies to end the annual product upgrade cycle and associated finance schemes, and use R&D investment to improve environmental performance instead of generating marginally improved user features.
It also calls on governments to ensure companies are providing accurate, standardised and comprehensive environmental reporting, and to commit themselves to action to achieve and exceed the goals set in the Sustainable Development Goals and Convention on Biodiversity to reduce consumption.
Alistair Currie continues:
“This is about Apple mending its ways, not customers mending its phones. Companies don’t have to sell-sell-sell at all costs – and we don’t have to buy at all costs. Anyone thinking of an upgrade this September might want to reflect on what the money they’re spending could buy instead – like paying the wages of a midwife in Bangladesh for four months.
Upgrade fever isn’t ultimately making us happy, it’s certainly not helping the most vulnerable people, and it’s symptomatic of the reckless consumption that’s driving our own ecological life-support system to the brink.”
The full Population Matters report, iCon: Apple, consumption and the future of the planet, is available at https://populationmatters.org/resources/icon/ (executive summary and key findings on p3).
Alistair Currie, Head of Campaigns and Communications
T: +44 (0)20 4552 5131
- Apple Environmental Progress Report 2023 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2023.pdf
- An estimated 2.2bn iPhones have been sold, with almost a quarter of a billion (224m), shipped in 2022. That is about 613,000 a day, or 425 units per minute. Source: Counterpoint Research 3 February 2023 https://www.counterpointresearch.com/2022-global-smartphone-shipmentslowest-since-2013-apple-regained-no-1-rank-highest-everoperating-profit-share-85/
- 20.6 million tonnes of CO2-equivalent, Apple Environmental Progress Report 2023 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2023.pdf Broadly equivalent to carbon footprint of Kenya. Comparison is with territorial emissions from fossil fuel use. Source: Global Carbon Atlas http://www.globalcarbonatlas.org/en/CO2-emissions , (2020 figures, most recent available)
- Apple.com, accessed September 2023 https://www.apple.com/uk/shop/iphone/iphone-upgrade-program; reversal of opposition to right-to-repair https://9to5mac.com/2023/08/24/apple-backing-right-to-repair/
- Corporate use (own facilities) reported by Apple at 1.5 billion gallons, but they note that represents just 1% of use throughout the entire supply chain. Apple Environmental Progress Report 2023 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2023.pdf
- Apple conflict minerals report 2021 https://www.apple.com/supplier-responsibility/pdf/Apple-Conflict-Minerals-Report.pdf ; Apple supplier list 2021 https://www.apple.com/supplierresponsibility/pdf/Apple-FY21-Supplier-List.pdf
- Apple Environmental Progress Report 2022 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2022.pdf
- Cost of an iPhone bought directly from Apple, March 2023: £849. Average monthly salary for nurse midwife, 26,000 BDT, equivalent to £201 (currency conversion by XE.com, 20 March 2023), Worldsalaries.com https://worldsalaries.com/average-nurse-midwife-salary-inbangladesh/
- Advertising spend source: Statista (2022) https://www.statista.com/statistics/286448/largestglobal-advertisers/ Water provision source: $1.8bn for sanitation, $845bn for hygiene. Chaitkin et al (2022) Estimating the cost of achieving basic water, sanitation, hygiene, and waste management services in public health-care facilities in the 46 UN designated least-developed countries: a modelling study The Lancet https://www.thelancet.com/journals/langlo/article/PIIS2214-109X(22)00099-7/fulltext
- Interview with Knives Out director Rian Johnson: “Apple… let you use iPhones in movies but – and this is very pivotal if you’re ever watching a mystery movie – bad guys cannot have iPhones on camera.” The Verge https://www.theverge.com/tldr/2020/2/26/21154151/applebad-guys-movies-iphones-product-placement 26 February 2020
- See iCon report, pp9-12
- “In 2016 it was estimated that 1% of total energy consumption on this planet is used just to serve online ads. Since global ad spend has increased by 258% since 2016, we can safely assume that the planetary impact of digital advertising has also skyrocketed.” Global Action Plan (2022) https://www.globalactionplan.org.uk/files/big_tech_report.pdf ; Apple expenditure source: Apple Insider (2021) https://appleinsider.com/articles/21/10/26/apple-spent-648-million-on-paid-search-ads-in-2020-ranking-12th-overall
- See iCon report, p14
- See details: iCon report, p20
- 1,750,000 tonnes CO2e. Source: Apple Environmental Progress Report 2022 https://www.apple.com/environment/pdf/Apple_Environmental_Progress_Report_2022.pdf
- See iCon report, p21
- See iCon report, p15
- See iCon report, p10-20
Population Matters is a UK-based charity working globally to achieve a sustainable future for people and planet. Our mission is to drive positive, large-scale action through fostering choices that help achieve a sustainable human population and regenerate our environment.
UK charity number: 1114109