Apple Wants to Get Greener: Is It Doing Enough?

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Just in time for Earth Day, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) uploaded a video to its official YouTube Account called “Better,” where CEO Tim Cook talks about innovation at Apple, including the company’s steps towards sustainability. He talks about the environment and Apple’s steps towards sustainability like greener materials, less packaging, keeping products out of landfills, clean power sources at Apple facilities with images of solar panels, and natural imagery of plants and water.

While the timing is convenient to the environmentally friendly national holiday, Cook has the green cred to carry it off for three key reasons. First, Apple has made some green steps under Cook. Apple hired Lisa Jackson, the former head of the EPA, as the head of environmental policy in 2013.

Second, environmental advocacy groups have noted Apple’s move towards sustainability. The company’s improvements under Cook were cited in a Greenpeace report on the technology sector. Cook has committed to using cleaner sources of energy at Apple facilities and using recycled materials in the production of its packaging.

Third, Cook is willing to think about environmental changes based on more than just the return on investment. He’s even willing to argue about the reasoning for it in a public forum. In February, he got into an argument at a shareholder meeting when a representative of the conservative think tank — the National Center for Public Policy Research, which owns a small percentage of Apple stock — asked him to not take any environmental action that did not translate directly into increased profit for Apple.

Cook said, “When I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view.”

Despite these improvements Apple still has a long way to go. Apple products are designed to be replaced, either when they break or when a perfectly functional iPhone 4 becomes even less stylish with rumors of the iPhone 6 coming out later this year, like most other technology companies.

Like fashion, technology changes quickly with some items becoming less desirable as new toys come out. While Apple tries to contain some of this waste with device recycling programs at every Apple store, waste still happens. (Although at lower rates than it used to thanks to increased technology recycling in both the private and public sectors.)

Modular smartphones, with infinitely replaceable parts and upgradeable components like the Project Ara or the ZTE Eco-Mobius, are still the exception rather than the rule. The iPhone is the prime example of that rule in that the smartphones cannot be modified, only repaired or replaced. As Cook says in the video, Apple still has a long way to go and a lot to learn. The company is taking steps in the right direction though.

Apple will be marking Earth Day in its retail stores too.

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