How sustainable is the iPhone really?

6 min


Acting sustainably is a global task – and Apple, as one of the largest companies in the world, sees itself as a kind of role model. But how sustainable is Apple actually and what is the CO2 footprint of an iPhone? We take a closer look at Apple’s carbon footprint.

Apple itself is already CO2 neutral – at least at its office locations. The iPhone manufacturer is on the right track in terms of sustainability, but this does not apply to the Group’s bread and butter business – iPhone production. Not yet anyway. Apple has formulated the ambitious goal of becoming completely climate neutral by 2030 at the latest.

But Apple does not have it in its own hands, instead it is assigned to its numerous suppliers based in the Far East – and currently still a long way from CO2-free production. That should change. On the one hand, Apple obliges its supply chain to do so, and on the other hand, a lot of money goes into supporting the project.

Apple’s sustainability offensive: There are three cornerstones

the end Apple’s latest environmental report shows that the company’s strategy is based on scientific findings and is built on three crucial pillars:

Environmental protection Resources Smarter chemistry Low-carbon design Raw materials Allocation and integration Energy efficiency Water stewardship Assessment of electricity from renewable energies Avoidance of landfill waste Innovation Direct emission reduction – – CO2 reduction – –

What does that mean in concrete terms? Apple wants to make its footprint CO2-neutral by 2030, which is why it has already reduced emissions by 75 percent compared to 2015. Products and packaging should be made exclusively from recycled or renewable raw materials. The use of water should be more sustainable and waste in landfills should be avoided completely. Innovative chemistry should make products safe and sustainable for everyone.

apple-renewable-energies

Apple relies entirely on renewable energies, here a solar farm in California that supplies Apple’s corporate headquarters with electricity.

Apple’s current CO2 emissions and forecast up to 2023

In 2020, Apple emitted a total of 22.6 million CO2 – more than two-thirds (70%) of which was from production. Five years earlier it was 38.4 million tons. For comparison: If the much discussed speed limit of 130 km / h were introduced on German autobahns, around 1.9 million tonnes of CO2 could be saved (Study of the Federal Environment Agency).

“This is not the time for casual change. Together we can create a carbon neutral economy and fair opportunities for all people. This is the time for ambition, collaboration and leadership.”

If you take a look at Apple’s carbon footprint in recent years, the flattening of the curve – with one minor exception in 2019 – can be clearly seen. If the company continues to pursue this path successfully, the major goal of climate neutrality by 2030 could actually be achieved.

apple-co2

Apple intends to further reduce CO2 emissions in the coming years.

This is what the iPhone’s environmental balance sheet looks like

iPhone 13 Buy now at

If you want to pinpoint Apple’s efforts for a more sustainable, economical operation on an example, the manufacturer’s current flagship product is ideal – the iPhone 13. Apple has developed its flagship smartphone with the lowest possible impact on the environment. This can be seen in the smaller details: The antenna cables of the cell phone were made from recycled plastic water bottles. These in turn have been chemically changed into a stronger, high-performance material – unique in the industry, says Apple.

Episode 12: Climate Protection: Is Technology Finally Sustainable?

  • 100 percent recycled rare earth metals for the MagSafe magnets.
  • Tin in the solder on the motherboard and battery management unit is 100 percent recycled.
  • 100 percent recycled gold for plating the motherboard and wiring the cameras.
  • No outer packaging made of plastic due to the newly designed sales packaging.
  • This saves: 600 tons of plastic year after year.
  • The goal: to completely dispense with plastic in packaging by 2025.

Sustainability iPhone 13 Materials 99% recycled tungsten and 98% rare earth metals Energy efficiency 54% lower energy consumption than the US Department of Energy for battery chargers. Packaging 100% of the wood fiber from recycled sources, 95% of the packaging is made from wood fiber

When it comes to assessing CO2 emissions, it is not just production that is decisive, but the entire life cycle of a device. The following processes are taken into account:

  • Extraction of the materials
  • production
  • Packing and delivery
  • use
  • Recycling

If you look at the past iPhone models, it becomes clear that CO2 emissions have remained relatively constant over the past few years – and were only significantly reduced with the iPhone 13.

Model CO2 emissions over lifetime iPhone 13, 128 GB 64 kg iPhone 12, 64 GB 70 kg iPhone 11, 64 GB 70 kg iPhone XS, 64 GB 70 kg iPhone X, 64 GB 79 kg

The iPhone and repairability: there is room for improvement here

An important building block for sustainable action are not only things like production, packaging and the like – but also how easily a device can be repaired. And here Apple has a lot of catching up to do, as teardowns show time and again. Repair experts recently dismantled the iPhone 13 Pro and checked how easy it is to repair the smartphone. The final rating: 5 out of 10 points and thus at best average. And too little for a group that sees itself as a pioneer in the more sustainable use of our resources.

“We don’t pretend we have all the answers. What we have are goals we want to achieve and a global community of companies that want to do what’s right for people and the planet.”

Apple has made progress here – many iPhone components are now modular and Apple is also increasingly doing without the unpleasant adhesive – but the display glass is still not easy to replace. In addition, it is difficult for third-party providers to carry out repairs, as Apple links certain components to the software of the device. After all, Apple has learned: The first iPhone from 2007 achieved a measly repairability score of only 2 points. Sometimes it even had to be soldered if the first iPhone was to be repaired.

Manufacturers such as Shiftphone and Fairphone show that there is another way. The third generation of the Fairphone achieved the highest value in the iFixit ranking in 2019 – 10 out of 10 points. Not only does the manufacturer itself offer spare parts and provide helpful repair instructions, it is also very easy to replace individual modules.

iPhone without power adapter: small step, big effect

Elsewhere, however, it shows how much effect supposedly small changes actually achieve: Since 2020, Apple has dispensed with the otherwise mandatory power supply for both the Apple Watch and the iPhone.

What more than a few understand as profit maximization – an obvious idea – also makes sense from an ecological point of view. Because: around 70 percent more products fit on a shipping pallet, which is why emissions are significantly reduced through transport. At the same time, less plastic and zinc are needed, of which power supplies make up a fair share. Apple expects a saving of 861,000 tons of copper, tin and zinc. Small measure, big impact.

The argument that many consumers already have one or more power supply units at home cannot be dismissed out of hand. It remains to be expected with excitement whether other manufacturers will also follow Apple – as was the case when the headphone jack was omitted. At first laughed at, a little later almost the entire industry followed suit. It is quite possible that this will also be the case with the power supply unit.

Recycling old iPhones: raise the curtain for – Daisy

Recycling old iPhones also plays an important role in saving CO2. Because: Old devices should not collect dust in your own four walls when they are not being used – as is certainly still the case in many households – but should be returned to the cycle. This is the only way that old devices can be fed into the recycling process so that new materials can be recovered from them.

For this purpose, Apple launched its own trade-in program a long time ago, in which old iPhones can be sent in when a new one is purchased. Depending on the model, a certain value is charged when purchasing. If you prefer something more sustainable, you can grab a refurbished iPhone right away.

For disused iPhones, however, a special dismantling robot from Apple is used. Daisy was created based on the experience with Apple’s first robot named Liam in 2016. The robot can dismantle up to 200 iPhones per hour and now supports nine device versions. Components are automatically sorted and removed so that Apple can reclaim valuable materials. But that’s not enough for the manufacturer: A robot named “Dave” goes a step further and even dismantles the Tapic engine of iPhones to better recover rare earth magnets and tungsten.

Conclusion: Apple does a lot of things right – but is that enough?

Apple is on the right track and has set itself ambitious goals: by 2030, all Apple devices, from iPhones to iPads and Macs, are to be produced in a climate-neutral manner. That Apple is serious is shown by the exemplary transparency, which is certainly unique in the industry. Apple lists the individual carbon footprint for every product it manufactures – even for the first iPhones or even for products like an iPod shuffle. We were unable to discover comparable reports from the competition in this level of detail, even though companies such as Samsung or Microsoft are doing a lot to raise awareness of the aspect of sustainability.

However, as much as companies do everything in their power to act as climate-neutral as possible – each individual should also question their own consumer behavior: What can I do to prevent our earth from being excessively polluted? This includes many things: Does it have to be the new iPhone every year, are short trips to low-cost airlines really necessary several times a year, do I have to speed down the motorway at 180 km / h? Everyone can contribute to making the world a little better. Apple is leading the way – but this global show of strength requires the participation of all of humanity. Apple has made the start, but the goal is still a long way off.

iPhone 13 Buy now at


Steve

Passionate about DIY for over 10 years and all the new tools, I give you through this blog all my advice, tips, tests in all areas: carpentry, electricity, masonry, gardening, home automation ...

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