Apple also knows its target audience, of course; its user base leans young, female and fairly well-to-do. But if capitalism has any hope of helping solve the climate-change problem it created, then this is basically how it should work: The invisible hand of the market guiding companies and customers toward more sustainable behavior.
Some of Apple’s choices will also do clear and measurable good. Ditching leather, for example, is big: Cattle ranching is responsible for 14.5 per cent of the planet’s emissions, by one estimate.
Committing to renewable energy and setting aggressive targets for emissions reduction are important. Grid Forecast could nudge electricity use in a positive direction. And the sheer volume of recycled materials in Apple’s iPhones and other products is genuinely impressive.
After that, the promises get murkier. For example, it isn’t entirely clear paper packaging is superior to plastic, as my Bloomberg Opinion colleagues Adam Minter and David Fickling have written. Though most of the fibres in Apple’s “fibre-based” packaging are recycled, the rest come from precious carbon-storing trees. Ocean shipping does emit far less carbon than air transport, but it also spews pollution directly into the oceans.
More importantly, Apple’s emissions goals depend heavily on carbon offsets, which are credits companies and people get for investing in projects to reduce carbon – often, by planting trees.
Carbon offsets have been under intense scrutiny lately for promising more than they can deliver. Too many give credit for measures that would happen anyway, such as not chopping down trees, for example.
Without a central authority to assure quality control for offsets, they will always be suspect. Rainforest offsets certified by Verra, one of the private standard-setters Apple uses, have been accused of being mostly “worthless.”