Apple’s Lisa Jackson explains how going carbon neutral by 2030 is good business

As the most valuable company in the world, Apple makes its mark in every corner of the industry. With that footprint comes a huge responsibility to conduct ourselves responsibly in terms of the materials, labor and energy required to ship two billion mobile devices to become an unprecedented $3 trillion company.

A decade ago, Apple brought in Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA under the Obama administration, to shape its strategy on environmental issues. Jackson serves as vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple, a role that becomes more central as the climate crisis accelerates, with increasingly visible and often devastating impacts in every corner of the world. So how does a company that sells goods that depend on extracting rare minerals from the earth balance its business with its environmental impact?

On stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, Jackson explained Apple’s environmental commitment to make all its products carbon neutral by 2030. “We have a roadmap for Apple 2030 just like we have a roadmap for products — I’m not allowed to talk about that — but the roadmap for Apple 2030 went all the way up to Tim (Cook) and up to our CFO,” Jackson said.

For Jackson, a decade of work on that roadmap is very hands-on. After Apple CEO Tim Cook directly recruited her to her government position, she was tasked with creating the curriculum from day one.

“I said, ‘OK, I’m here, what do you want me to do?’ And he said, ‘That’s what I want you to tell me. I want us to learn who we are, which is incredibly important. And then say, what’s the roadmap for making us a leader, a ripple in the pond,” Jackson said.

At its annual fall event last week, Apple announced that its new lineup of Apple Watches will be the first carbon neutral devices. While the smartwatch is just a sliver in Apple’s hardware lineup, the company says it’s the first milestone in an ambitious commitment to make every device, from Macs to the upcoming mixed reality headset Apple Vision Pro, clear the same bar end to end. of the decade.

“… We can invest, so Apple can go first and find new materials or make new materials, like we have 100% recycled cobalt in the batteries in the Series 9 watches, which is part of our materials story,” Jackson said. “But until it gets to a product like the Series 9, it has to scale and do so at a price point that makes sense in the business we’re in.”

Ambitiously, Apple says this commitment extends to the global supply chain it commands and the lifetime use of every device it sells. If Apple realizes that vision and is so good — the company rarely calls a shot it can’t make — it will set a precedent for other titans of industry who are slow to calculate the negative environmental impacts of their success.

“I think our job is to lead, innovate and then help other companies,” Jackson said. “Because of our demand, they can now meet that demand in a way that changes the system, which transforms the system.”

Earlier this year, Apple also announced that it would rely entirely on recycled cobalt in all of its batteries by 2025 — five years ahead of its 2030 goal. Cobalt is a mineral notorious not only for the environmental impacts associated with the mining process, but also for its often horrific human cost. On its way to powering equipment in wealthy nations, cobalt takes a heavy toll on laborers, including children, who pull it out of the ground by hand, inhaling toxic dust and losing their lives in the process.

Apple has increased scrutiny of its cobalt supply chain in response to previous reports of these human rights violations, and last year a quarter of the cobalt in its devices came from recycled sources, up from 13 percent the previous year.

“We’d love to one day make your new Apple device that doesn’t have to be dug out of the ground,” Jackson said.

As Apple approaches its 2030 goals, consumers can keep an eye out for a little green flower icon that indicates which of its products have cleared the bar so far. Apple also noted that it will move away from leather, previously used in some devices such as iPhone cases, in favor of more durable materials.

The company’s carbon neutral manufacturing strategy is multifaceted. Apple will rely on more recycled materials, alternative shipping methods and sustainable energy sources in the manufacturing process. While this could get the company a long way there, Apple plans to “(invest) in nature-based projects” to offset what part of its environmental footprint remains.

Carbon offsets are controversial—and often deployed carelessly by industries otherwise uninterested in reducing their environmental impact. Apple hasn’t fully gone into the details of what portion of its emissions will be covered by offsetting green investments and what those investments will look like, but the company is certainly worth following as it leads the way into the future.

“We’re not offsetting any (supplier) energy at all, we’re either offsetting very small amounts of direct emissions that we just need to come up with technologically new processes or logistics and transportation,” Jackson said. “When you’re operating at the scale we are, logistics become a big deal.”

On the marketing side, Apple’s warm and fuzzy new ad starring Octavia Spencer as Mother Nature may have shocked anyone skeptical of corporate climate lip service, but the company seems realistic about its lofty goals and how it plans to get there.

“Tim has been really clear that the work we do needs to be able to scale and replay out, which doesn’t mean it’s charity work. This is not altruism. We’re not just spending money so we can make this claim to make other people feel good,” Jackson said.

“There has to be something that businesses in our supply chain can do without sacrificing their ability to make a profit — that’s what they’re in business for… For us it’s about creating that continuous wave and channeling it. Business will happen.”

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