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Apple's carbon-neutral product claims called a 'climate-wash'

Apple CEO Tim Cook

Last updated

Apple's claims it has created its first carbon-neutral product could be far-fetched, with a Chinese environment research organization calling it "climate-washing" by the iPhone maker.

During its "Wonderlust" event on September 12, Apple introduced its Apple Watch Series 9 as the first carbon-neutral product from the company. While an achievement for Apple, it has been called out by one research organization as possibly being an exaggeration.

The Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs (IPE) based in Beijing said in a report that Apple didn't reveal enough details about suppliers who produce its products to be able to substantiate the claim of carbon neutrality, reports Inside Climate News.

IPE was named in Apple's 2022 Annual Progress Report as a "leading non-profit environmental research organization." Apple was the first recipient of IPE's Corporate Information Transparency Index Master's Level Designation for its disclosures.

According to IPE's report, the entity received data on greenhouse gas emissions from fewer suppliers in 2023 than in previous years. This was apparently down to Apple stopping a requirement for suppliers to publicly disclose that information in 2023, with Apple stating "we may not request suppliers to provide facility level carbon disclosure this year."

"We believe there is a need for full disclosure and explanation of how Apple achieves carbon neutrality of its products, given the increase in carbon emissions from some of its suppliers," writes IPE in its report.

Shifting certificates

It is proposed by IPE that, since Apple relies on the purchase of renewable energy certificates for some of its carbon neutrality claims, it's possible that some of those certificates could be reallocated to support the production of another device. For example, certificates used for iPhone production could be allocated towards the Apple Watch instead.

By allocating more certificates to Apple Watch production than iPhone, Apple would therefore be able to claim the Apple Watch as using completely clean energy, with a proportionately lower hit taken to the far larger production of the iPhone.

IPE queries "If this assumption is correct, is Apple's carbon neutrality milestone' really a significant reduction in the carbon emissions of its product manufacturing process, or just a mathematical equation whereby Apple cherry picks the limited green electricity from its suppliers and allocate them to one relatively niche product?"

Apple issued a statement in response, insisting it didn't reallocate certificates from iPhone to the production of other products. It added that the iPhone 15 Pro supply chian generates 28% lower greenhouse gas emissions than the 2015 baseline, thanks to its increased use of renewable energy.

"In many years of our index assessment, Apple was one of the top performers, so we did give it credit for that," said Ma Jun, IPE director. "But when it started making the claim of [a] carbon neutral product, that is a very high standard and I think it needs an even higher level of disclosure."

Ma explained that fewer than 30 Apple suppliers disclosed facility-level greenhouse gas emissions data in 2023, down from around 100 in earlier years. "The number has dropped at a very special moment, when carbon-neutral products are being released," Ma added.

Apple said "We strongly support climate disclosures to improve transparency and drive progress in the fight against climate change. For the last decade, Apple has modeled, measured, and voluntarily reported our greenhouse gas emissions across all scopes of emissions, and publicly advocated for disclosure around the world."

It continued "As stated clearly in our Supplier Code of Conduct, we require suppliers to report their Apple-related greenhouse gas emissions to us each year, and to comply with any laws and regulations that mandate reporting of emissions to local or national authorities."