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Embrace All Three ‘R’s of Sustainability, Tech Columnist Urges Apple

Major tech companies are taking steps to cut emissions and invest in renewable energy but have “barely moved the needle” on demand for new resource consumption, prompting one tech columnist to urge Apple Inc. to step up and develop incentives for consumers to reuse its products.

“Apple is notable for falling short in ways to prolong the life of its devices, either as finished [items] or the components from which they’re built. The same applies to the byproducts that come from the manufacturing process,” writes Tim Culpan in Bloomberg Opinion.

Four years ago, Greenpeace listed the tech giant among the world’s greenest tech companies for its commitment and advocacy for renewable energy. The company invested in 500 megawatts of solar and wind power in China and Japan in 2017, and by 2020 its total renewable commitments totaled 8,000 megawatts.

But Apple’s sustainable status is marred by a track record of designing products that are difficult to fix, and by actions to oppose right to repair legislation in the U.S., writes Culpan. 

Sustainability policies can be roughly distilled down to three words, says Culpan: reduce, reuse, and recycle. “And that’s their order of efficacy.” 

To its credit, Apple has increased the proportion of recycled materials in its products to 12%, which does reduce resource extraction and energy use; for instance, recycled aluminum consumes only about 5% of the energy used to manufacture from mined sources. But recycling is not as effective as reducing or reusing resources because it is not totally clean, and can produce carcinogenic compounds.

“The result is that while Apple has cut direct greenhouse gas emissions from electricity use to zero, 71% of the 22.6 million tons of carbon dioxide it contributed to the atmosphere last year came from manufacturing the smart phones, tablets, computers, and accessories it churns out from factories around the world,” says Culpan.

Apple’s steps to expand the range of iPhone parts that be repaired or replaced, and to launch its Independent Repair Program, only amount to 7% of the total devices sold by the company. The rest of the company’s 140 million new products “were made from scratch, largely from fresh materials, many of them recently extracted from the earth,” the columnist adds.

“Global technology giants have made massive investments in renewable energy,” he says. “They have the money to do so.” Now they need to embrace ‘the reduction and reuse of the products to which their fortunes are tied,” he says.