Carbon Competition: Apple makes carbon neutrality pledge

July 30, 2020


2 min read

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What's going on here?

On Tuesday 21 July, Apple announced a target to become carbon neutral across its entire business and manufacturing supply chain by 2030. This commitment means that its devices will have no carbon footprint at the point of sale.

What does this mean?

Carbon neutrality can be achieved through a variety of actions. Firstly, Apple can simply reduce the levels of emissions it currently releases. On this point, Apple has made a pledge to reduce carbon emissions by a further 75% before the 2030 deadline. Another tool to reach carbon neutrality is the offsetting of emissions. This necessarily involves investing in green projects that reduce emissions elsewhere in the world. Apple has confirmed its plan involves investment in new eco-friendly projects as well as the purchase of green energy offsets to compensate for some continued use of carbon-emitting fuels.

What's the big picture effect?

Tech companies’ manufacturing and data-processing centres create large amounts of carbon dioxide. By one estimate, the sector will account for up to 3.6% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions this year, more than double the level in 2007. Furthermore, it has been forecast that in a worst-case scenario, this could grow to 14% by 2040. With global concern for the climate rising year on year, it is no surprise that Apple joins a list of major companies wishing to tackle their carbon emissions. Indeed, Amazon has set the later target of 2040 to go carbon neutral, reflecting the challenges it faces in converting its home-delivery vehicles to more eco-friendly energy sources. 

Until now, most companies have focused on offsetting emissions to achieve neutrality. The result of this slows carbon emissions rather than reverses them. Microsoft arguably has gone further than most by promising to be carbon negative by 2030. This would require it to remove more carbon from the atmosphere than it produces. Furthermore, it has pledged to remove the same amount of carbon from the atmosphere as it has ever emitted. 

Where Apple’s approach differs from its competitors is the intention to handle the primary supply of its greenhouse gas emissions by being picky with its suppliers. Apple has said that any company hoping to become a supplier would have to commit to “be 100% renewable for their Apple production” within 10 years. If other big companies follow suit there could be a monumental shift in production. In the short term, this could drive up production costs as companies invest more in their production lines to make the process greener.  

It is also pertinent to consider if smaller businesses would be able to emulate this ambition. While big firms can cover the costs to offset their emissions, smaller companies could not afford to invest in initiatives that could lower their carbon footprint. Apple has already made its corporate operations carbon neutral. This includes the powering of offices and data centres. While big firms cutting their emissions to a net-zero is welcome, it is inconceivable that a smaller company could overhaul the operations to compete with the required energy efficiency.  One problem at a time…

Report written by Kasey Cummings

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