cover image

Illustration by Neyva Hernandez

Is Apple Really Green?

Although Apple’s environmental stewardship is commendable, they have yet to solve the structural issues with their product design and marketing strategy that continue to fuel the unnecessary demand of electronic products and electronic waste.

Recently, a friend of mine proudly showed off his new MacBook Air to demonstrate that he is environmentally conscious. Indeed, on Oct. 30, Apple launched the latest edition of the MacBook Air, this time made of 100 percent recycled aluminum, making it the greenest Mac ever. But this makes neither my friend nor Apple environmentally conscious.
Increasing the consumption of newer electronic devices has given rise to a high amount of electronic waste, such as Central Processing Units, that contain potentially harmful materials like lead and cadmium. E-waste can be reused, resold and recycled. However, rapid technological advancement, the high marginal utility of consumption across all income levels and [built in obsolescence] ( — a policy of deliberately designing a product that becomes obsolete after a certain period of time — have caused a surplus of electronic waste around the world.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, only 15 to 20 percent of e-waste is recycled while the rest goes directly into landfills and incinerators. It is estimated that 50 million tons of e-waste is produced each year, with the U.S. discarding 30 million computers and Europe discarding 100 million phones annually. Improperly processing and recycling such e-waste poses a significant risk both to human health and the environment. As one of the leading e-producers, Apple plays a crucial role in implementing solutions to tackle this issue.
For over a decade, Apple has aimed to improve its sustainability measures and shift toward renewable energy. In 2018, Apple reached a milestone by sourcing all the energy required in its stores, offices and other facilities around the world with 100 percent renewable energy. Its 2.5 billion U.S. dollar commitment to the Paris Agreement, promotion of renewable energy sourcing across the supply chain and commitment to reducing the mining of new materials from the earth are commendable. Apple’s long-term sustainability goals and pledges to focus on clean energy, material recovery and green chemistry are highlighted in their [Environmental Progress Report] (
The recent innovations Apple has developed to promote sophisticated ways of recycling has also caught media attention. Daisy, Apple’s new recycling robot, can now disassemble 9 versions of iPhones in a way that allows them to be reused. Although this is a step forward, Apple’s effort to recycle should also be measured by not only its goals and innovative developments but also its recycling rate. In 2016, Daisy’s predecessor, Liam — a similar disassembling robot — could take apart only 2.4 million phones per year, while 215.3 million iPhones were sold per year. Still, there seems to be no information comparing their recycling rate to their production rate.
Moreover, Apple’s sustainability efforts seem hypocritical as they contradict the inherent design and marketing policy of their products. In particular, Apple has been accused of slowing down the operation of older iPhones after the release of newer products. In early 2017, Apple consumers complained that their iPhones 6, 6s and 6s Plus were spontaneously shutting down during peak current demands, such as in the middle of a game or while downloading an app. Apple acknowledged the bug and claimed that it was due to lithium-ion batteries aging over time. To fix this issue, it introduced a new IOS system that prevented the processor from overtaxing the battery. Although this solution fixed the unexpected shutting down, it also slowed down devices even more.
On top of that, Apple has also been accused of designing single-use versions. If it really wanted to mine less, it could prolong the life of existing products, but it does the exact opposite. Its phones and laptops are designed in a way that very little can be repaired or replaced, so consumers are forced to buy a new product in case of damage.
Although the new MacBook Air is the greenest Mac ever, it is still far from other green electronic options. For example, Fairphone, a Dutch company, produces ethical and modular smartphones so that users don’t need to choose between a quality phone and a fair supply chain. Its products are designed to be long-lasting and easily repairable.
Simply switching to renewable energy — which is also more cost effective for the company in the long-run — should not entitle Apple to call itself the leader of green electronics. Although its environmental stewardship is commendable, its product design and marketing strategy continue to fuel excessive demand of electronic products. Admittedly, purchasing the new Apple MacBook Air might be a more sustainable option than any other computer on the market. But as consumers, we must question the necessity of our next purchase.
Rashtra Raj Bhandari is a climate columnist and Julia Tymoshenko is Social Media Editor. Email them at
gazelle logo