Apple announced its first-ever carbon-neutral products today, but don’t get too excited about what that means for the planet. It’s way more important to look at the company’s environmental impact as a whole rather than fixate on any particular product it’s selling as more sustainable.
Some of Apple’s new watches will be carbon neutral, but only based on “select” combinations of cases and bands. Apple also said it plans to stop selling leather accessories like watch bands and phone cases to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
When it comes to climate commitments, boasts about a specific product’s sustainability can distract from the far more important goal of reducing the company’s overall environmental impact. Apple has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, the key measure for which we should hold it accountable.
Apple has a goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2030, the key measure for which we should hold it accountable
According to Apple, “select case and band combinations of Apple Watch Series 9, Apple Watch Ultra 2, and Apple Watch SE” will be carbon neutral. To know if a product is carbon neutral, look for a new logo saying so on the package. Apple says it was able to reduce emissions from materials, electricity, and transportation in production of the watches, in part by getting more of its suppliers to switch to clean energy. Any remaining pollution was offset through nature-based projects like restoring forests so that they can capture more CO2. Apple also says it will match customers’ expected electricity use for charging carbon-neutral Apple Watch models with investments in renewable energy projects.
The company is also replacing leather with “a luxurious and durable microtwill” it calls FineWoven. The material is made with nearly 70 percent postconsumer recycled content, and Apple says it has “significantly lower” carbon emissions than leather. Cattle are a big source of greenhouse gas emissions because cows burp out methane, which is even more potent than CO2 when it comes to its ability to trap heat on the planet.
Don’t get me wrong; it is important to reduce all those sources of greenhouse gas emissions. It’s just that the supposed sustainability of any single product doesn’t necessarily tell us how much progress the company is making overall toward its climate goals. A company might make a single product less carbon-intensive, for example. But if it winds up selling more of that product than it used to, it might end up pumping out as much or even more greenhouse gas emissions than it used to.
The good news is that Apple’s gross carbon emissions are falling, according to its latest environmental progress report. It produced the equivalent of 20.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2022. That just has to drop to net zero by the end of the decade if the company wants to meet its climate goals. Like Octavia Spencer says in her role as Mother Nature in a skit Apple played during today’s event, “Don’t disappoint your mother.”