Apple’s “Mother Nature” – Greenwashing Or Earnest Climate Action?

Apple’s “Mother Nature” – Greenwashing Or Earnest Climate Action?

Did Apple’s “Mother Nature” advert, talking up its action on climate change, accurately reflect the firm’s initiatives? Laure Legros, head of experience at the non-profit WorkforClimate, weighs in.

In line with its 2023 keynote, Apple has launched its latest ad this week, where we see CEO Tim Cook welcoming Mother Nature herself (played by the illustrious Octavia Spencer) into the boardroom to answer her probing queries on how the tech giant is measuring up on the sustainability front.

The ad – part comedy skit, part sustainability sizzle reel, and backed by the slick production you’d expect from an Apple TV show – feeds on consumer cynicism towards common greenwashing tactics, with Mother Nature herself approaching the company with understandable distrust and scepticism. “This is my third corporate responsibility gig today, so who wants to disappoint me first?” she asks.

But lo and behold, as Apple employees dutifully outline all of the measures they’re taking to make their products more environmentally friendly, she begrudgingly warms up. Commends them on their efforts, even, and leaves cautiously satisfied. The boardroom erupts with relief. Backs are patted. They’ve done it.

Laure Legros, head of experience, WorkforClimate.

Amid all of this is a big announcement: the Apple Watch 9 is the first carbon-neutral product sold by the company. The goal is to make all products carbon neutral by 2030. The leaf on the Apple logo is green – get it? Yet herein lies the ultimate conundrum of Apple’s sustainability commitments: their ad for their climate commitments is also an ad for their new products.

Consider this: At the same time this ad was released, so were four (four!) new iPhone models. This anticipated annual product ‘update’ is about convincing consumers they need newer things. Better things. More things.

So the real question is: is Apple doing what’s required to meet the magnitude and urgency of the climate challenge with all its might? Are they really “all-in” on solving this crisis and keeping the planet safe for humanity, now and in the future?

Well, the ad comes off the back of a few recent ‘green’ announcements from Apple, including an about-face on the ‘right to repair’ bill (they’re finally encouraging third-party repair to boost product longevity, after fighting it for years) and raising their voice on climate policy, both of which conveniently drummed up positive press in the lead-up to the video’s release.

To be fair, Apple is doing a lot of good work in the climate and sustainability space – especially compared to the other big comparable tech companies. They have bold commitments for emissions reductions, including working with suppliers to cut scope 3 emissions across their entire supply chain. Their switch to 100% renewable electricity (which is something any company can and should take advantage of right now) is being done transparently, in a way that actually transforms the grid. And the commitment to remove all plastic from their packaging by 2024 is commendable.

But there are also huge problems with Apple’s claims.

The first is around its plans for ‘carbon-neutral’ products. This claim still largely relies on unproven “high quality” offsets, the credibility of which has been contested time and time again. In short: regardless of their quality, offsets are a band-aid, not a solution. And within our current corporate constraints, carbon-neutral products are an oxymoron. No product – anywhere, ever – can claim to have no impact on our already strained climate system. As sustainability designer Lloyd Alter says, “the only truly carbon neutral watch is the one you don’t buy”.

Which brings us to the next point: Apple is using its carbon-neutral claims to give customers the social licence to continue consuming its products, ultimately maintaining its market dominance and model of endless growth. Regardless of what a slick ad might try to convince you of, Apple doesn’t answer to Mother Nature, or even its customers; it answers to its investors and shareholders. And they demand profits and growth. Growth which exacerbates the climate problem, instead of solving it.

Of course, the takeaway for consumers is to not buy things you don’t need. But in placing the responsibility on individuals to avoid consumerism, we’re giving companies free rein to overproduce, overmanufacture and oversupply their products. What we desperately need – and what the planet, the climate and Mother Nature herself needs – is for companies to not make an endless stream of unnecessary things in the first place. That would be a true win for sustainability.

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