Apple touts environmental credentials as it releases greener new iPhone Xs

Andrew Griffin
Journalists gather for a product launch event at Apple headquarters in Cupertino, California, on September 12, 2018: NOAH BERGER/AFP/Getty Images

When Apple took the stage this week to show off its new iPhone, it kept to a now familiar pattern: new blow-away technologies, flashy videos, designs to make your wallet ache. But it also spent time on something that was not quite so familiar.

During the same event, Apple's Lisa Jackson took the stage and told the world about what her team had helped add to that new iPhone, Apple Watch and other products. Or, rather, what she had helped to take out of it: the products are even more environmentally friendly than ever before.

And she committed Apple to continue to work hard to make the company ever more green. Because Ms Jackson's responsibility is environment, policy and social initiatives, trying to maximise Apple's commitment to the environment.

Doing so has forced Apple to come into conflict with new decisions from the Trump administration to roll back clean energy standards. At an event this week Ms Jackson criticised that strategy and asked the administration to work with businesses like Apple to protect the environment. Apple is proof that having a progressive environmental policy is not just good in itself, but good for business.

Apple and other phonemakers have long been criticised for how dirty their shiny new phones really are.

They are made out of some of the world's rarest metals, which have to be mined from the Earth in ways that can damage the environment and the lives of the people who do so. Some of those metals used in electronic devices even rely on the ugliest of processes and extracting them ripples out into climate change and armed conflicts.

But when Ms Jackson took to the stage she made clear that Apple hopes not only to clean up that process – as it has long been doing – but that it wants to entirely eliminate the need to pull those materials from the Earth.

"Now as you can imagine, this is a massive effort," she said, pointing to three new activities. That included finding new ways to make products "with recycled or renewable materials that are sourced responsibly", ensuring products last as long as possible, and working to ensure they can be recycled as efficiently and cleanly as possible.

(The commitment to keep Apple products going for as long as possible addresses yet another complaint often made about Apple products: that they are not built to last, with some conspiracy theorists arguing that they precisely calculated to breakdown to force new ones. Its commitment to breaking free of that reputation was also evidenced in the new Apple software, iOS 12, which was designed to ensure that new phones could not only handle the new features but were genuinely improved by them.)

And it's not just phones. For instance, Ms Jackson announced a new forest project with Conservation International that will reduce emissions by 17,000 metric tons – the same as the emissions produced by the cars that are driving around and updating Apple's Maps, and so making the project carbon neutral.

In the days after that event – as the world scrambled to get its pre-orders in, and the rest of Apple staff geared up for its busiest time of the year – Ms Jackson has been stressing that Apple continues to be committing to cleaning up that process as much as it can.

The executive, who worked as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency under Obama, not only pointed to Apple's environmental work but to the failures of the government in ensuring that the same approach was happening elsewhere. She made the remarks during the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, down the road from and just two days after the keynote event in Cupertino.

"The air we breathe and the planet we leave to our children doesn’t belong to any one party or ideology, it belongs to everyone," she said.

"The US government, no matter which political party leads it, should be our ally in this work.

"Just a few weeks ago, the Administration announced that they plan to roll back nationwide clean energy standards.

"The new plan risks drastically increasing emissions over the next 20 years. It risks harming the real economic potential we’re seeing every day in clean energy technology.

"And it’s come amid other rollbacks of environmental protections and safeguards that were put into place just a few short years ago, and that were demonstrating real results.

"The underlying message behind this strategy seems to be that protecting the environment is bad for business.

"Well, let me put my executive hat on firmly now. As head of environmental initiatives at Apple, I’ve had a front row seat to the tremendous impact that progressive environmental policy can have on profits and productivity."

"I’m here today to tell you — unequivocally — that there is no conflict between a healthy planet and a healthy bottom line. It’s a false choice, and it’s one we must reject."

She demonstrated that fact by pointing to Apple's work in pulling its business and environmental aims together. That doesn't only include iPhones themselves – and the robots that Apple makes to pull them to bits so they can be re-used – but also the renewable energy that powers all of its facilities and even the paper that makes its boxes.