Apple’s Lesson on Sustainability: Consumers Care
As it does every year, Apple unveiled its newest iPhone (12) at a special event, broadcast from its headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Although the phone and event drew the same praise they always do from the tech community, Apple also faces some harsh criticism this year. The company has decided to ship its new iPhone without headphones and charging accessories in a move billed as an environmental initiative to cut e-waste.
Unfortunately, consumers are seeing it as a profit grab. Apple is accused of trying to increase its profit margins at the expense of consumers, while slyly presenting the move as a sustainable one.
A reputation on the line
While it’s true that every company will face some degree of criticism or bad PR at some point, Apple’s recent gaffe threatens a major part of its reputation.
The company has enjoyed a strong reputation as an environmental steward over the last decade, and has been an industry voice for greener practices in manufacturing. Many of Apple’s major initiatives in recent years have been hailed for their environment-first approach, including its battery recycling program, the environmentally-conscious construction of its Apple Park headquarters, and its sustainable supply chain practices.
The problem with Apple’s environmental decision to remove headphones and charging accessories from its iPhone 12 bundle is simple: It’s not environmentally friendly at all. A report by The Verge has found that, not only will this have a negative net impact on the environment, it’s also very likely a profit-driven decision due to higher costs associated with the iPhone 12.
Apple’s seemingly false claim of environmental action threatens to undermine the many legitimate steps the company has taken toward becoming an environmental advocate.
Authentic environmental efforts matter
Manufacturing as a whole can learn a lesson from Apple’s recent fiasco. Beyond the bad press of an insincere effort, Apple’s gaffe shows that consumers care about the authenticity of a company’s efforts to be environmental. While consumers are left wondering about Apple’s motives, other manufacturers have a chance to step into a brighter spotlight with their own sustainable initiatives.
Much of this boils down to the triple bottom line — specifically the “planet” portion. Apple’s chief problem is that despite removing accessories from the iPhone 12 bundle, the phone itself is made of numerous recycled components, including rare earth metals and magnets. Unfortunately, the phone won’t likely get due attention for these sustainable efforts because of the insincere presentation of its packaging fiasco. Perception matters.
Making strides toward sustainability
Apple will overcome this criticism and consumers will likely forget about its attempt to mask profits in concern for the planet. But there may be lasting ramifications for the company in how future sustainable efforts play out. Will customers always be suspect of changes to product and packaging? Will the threat of consumer backlash cause the company to hesitate in launching an unpopular, but environmentally friendly initiative? There’s no way of knowing.
Manufacturers from across the industry that are concerned about environmental stewardship must see the lesson in Apple’s current debacle. Environmental stewardship can’t be profit-driven; it needs to have altruistic underlying. Environmentalism can power profits, but profits can’t power environmentalism — especially if the planet is used as a scapegoat.