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23 July 2020

Apple doubles down on renewables, carbon-free device lifecycle

Most US tech companies made it a clear point of CSR policy to announced they would be 100% zero carbon by some time very soon, say 2030, and made these announcements in 2018 or 2019 – but Apple with its latest wave of zero carbon announcements has gone just a little further.

It says that it is already carbon neutral for corporate offices worldwide, but it now wants bring its entire carbon footprint to net zero 20 years sooner than IPCC targets.

Its plan is to be carbon neutral throughout its entire manufacturing supply chain, and its product life cycle by 2030. So that must include disposing of Apple devices and recycling any technology inside them, without using more carbon producing electricity.

That’s a big claim that by 2030 every Apple device sold will have net zero climate impact throughout its lifecycle. That’s a huge commitment and it really does show that Apple is behind this thing, forcing all of its suppliers to keep up with its own breakneck speed of developing renewable energy for its own facilities.

It says it will provide a roadmap for this later in the year, one that other companies can follow.

First off it has guaranteed the commitment of 71 supplier firms to 100% renewable energy, at least on the Apple product lines, even where it is not entirely across the supplier’s manufacturing effort.

And Apple makes it very clear that this is not just a case of going out and buying some renewable energy certificates – some 55% of all of these commitments are in the form of PPAs, and 42% in the form of direct renewable project investment. Just 3% find another route.

And of these 71 firms apple has signed up 28 to 100% renewable energy just this year.

These companies include a lot of small specialist players, but also companies like 3M, BYD, Compal, Hon Hai Precision and Wistron.

Apple also in parallel has released a progress report in which it states very clearly that it will reduce emissions by 75% by 2030 and the remaining 25% will come from inventing a carbon removal system to remove the rest of its carbon footprint. So does it mean Apple will let its partners off with a bit of tree planting – it tries to make it clear that it is only investing in natural processes here, not inventing direct air capture machines.

So far it has partnered with Conservation International, to plant trees and help restore degraded savannas in Kenya and a vital mangrove ecosystem in Colombia. It also works with the Conservation Fund, the World Wildlife Fund, and Conservation International, and manages over 1 million acres of forests and natural climate solutions in China, the US, Colombia, and Kenya.

It also says it will establish an Impact Accelerator to focus investments which drive positive outcomes in its supply chain and in communities that are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards.

Apple already has a $100 million Racial Equity and Justice Initiative, which puts cash into education, economic equality, and criminal justice reform.

In its roadmap Apple says that it will design products specifically to have a low carbon lifecycle using materials which use less carbon in their creation and which allow greater recycling. It also says it is supporting the first ever direct carbon-free aluminum smelting process, with two of its aluminum suppliers.

Apple also wanted to point out that it already has built a robot which disassembles the Taptic Engine from iPhone which helps it recover rare earth magnets and tungsten. In fact Apple’s Material Recovery Lab in Austin, Texas, is now partnering with Carnegie Mellon University to further develop recycling systems and that all iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch devices released in the past year are made with recycled content.

So far Apple claims it has decreased its carbon footprint by 4.3 million metric tons during 2019 and over the past 11 years Apple says it has reduced the average energy needed for product use by 73%. We suspect this is true, but so have most devices, many by adhering to simple target specifications from regulators on energy usage.

Apple reminds us that projects in Arizona, Oregon, and Illinois bring Apple’s renewable capacity for its corporate operations to over 1 GW — equivalent and that it is launching one of the largest solar arrays in Scandinavia, and two new projects to underserved communities in the Philippines and Thailand.

Apple also says it has reduced emissions from fluorinated gases by more than 242,000 metric tons during 2019. That’s an area that a company that makes chips is especially vulnerable to, so expect more statements here as Apple gains greater insights into alternative materials. This could have an enormous effect on the entire chip industry.

On the back of these Apple announcements Avangrid Renewables separately released details of upgrades to the Montague Wind Farm, in Gilliam County, Oregon and the continued output of the Gala Solar project, in Crook County supplying renewable energy to Apple through power purchase agreements.

Apple finally said that it and 10 of its suppliers in China are investing nearly $300 million to develop projects totaling 1 GW of renewable energy.