AS TECH companies come under pressure over the questionable ethics involved in their supply chains for raw materials, Apple is pursuing a seriously ambitious goal for its products.
The company wants to use 100 per cent recycled and renewable materials like bioplastics to make its iPhones, Macbooks and other consumer electronics in a bid to reduce its reliance on raw materials.
“What we’ve committed to is 100 per cent recycled material to make our products, or renewable material,” Apple’s vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, Lisa Jackson, told news.com.au. “We’re working like gangbusters on that.”
As the former boss of the country’s Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama, the move towards developing a “circular economy” for its products is a mission close to her heart.
“As far as I know, we’re the only company in the sector trying to figure that out. Most people talk about recycling electronics but the material is not necessarily used in new electronics,” Ms Jackson said.
It’s a great PR move but the company’s stated goal to “stop mining the earth altogether” is not likely to come to fruition anytime soon and the economics of the decision have even been described as very strange indeed, verging upon nonsense.
However, Apple has been an industry leader when it comes to cleaning up its supply chain. Earlier this year, the company announced it would temporarily stop using cobalt mined by hand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo while it continues to deal with problems of child labour and harsh working conditions.
More than half of the world’s cobalt, a key component in lithium-ion batteries used in electronics and the growing electric vehicle market, comes from the DRC and about 20 per cent of it is mined by hand in hazardous conditions — sometimes by children.
A new report released last week by Amnesty International, ranked industry giants including Apple, Samsung Electronics, Dell, Microsoft, BMW, Renault and Tesla on how much they had improved their cobalt sourcing practices since January 2016.
Of all the companies, Apple was the only one that Amnesty said had taken “adequate” measure to mitigate its reliance on cobalt mines potentially using child labour.
“This is a crucial moment for change,” said Seema Joshi, Amnesty International’s head of business and human rights.
“As demand for rechargeable batteries grows, companies have a responsibility to prove they are not profiting from the misery of miners working in terrible conditions in the DRC.”
FIGHT FOR THE RIGHT TO REPAIR
Apple has come under heavy criticism for being unwilling to allows its customers to more easily repair its devices — seen by some as a blind spot in the company’s environmental policy.
In the United States, the tech giant is actively fighting against legislation that would give consumers and third-party repair shops the legal right to purchase spare parts and access service manuals for Apple devices.
The iFixit CEO, Kyle Weins, who has been leading the push for right to repair legislation believes empowering consumers to repair their own devices would help reduce waste when it comes to consumer electronics. He sees it as fundamentally an environmental issue, not just an economic one.
“Repair is not seen as a green job but your car mechanic is doing wonderful things for the environment by keeping an existing machine running,” he told news.com.au earlier this year.
But Apple — which doesn’t want to lose control of its highly lucrative repair market — said as its devices get increasingly sophisticated, it is hesitant to open them up to unqualified third-party repairers.
“Let’s be really clear, there is nothing about Apple’s thinking on our devices that isn’t for having a long lasting device that’s great for the planet, that can then be recycled, and hopefully be reused to make more devices. That’s our goal ultimately,” Ms Jackson said.
“We run our own repair programs and then authorise and certify repairers. The question is in a device that is increasingly complex, what is best for the customer?
“And third-party, unauthorised repairs are exactly what they sound like,” she said, suggesting they would make the devices less secure and even jeopardise their longevity.
“We want to make sure repairs are done correctly,” Ms Jackson added.
‘AMERICA’S LEADERSHIP WILL BE MISSED’
Before receiving a phone call from Apple boss Tim Cook about taking a role at the tech giant, Ms Jackson spent 25 years working at the Environmental Protection Agency in the US.
“I started as an entry level engineer and worked my way up,” she said. A couple decades after that “President Obama asked me to run the EPA,” she added.
She said “of course it is” hard to watch what has happened to the government agency under President Donald Trump who installed Scott Pruitt to the top job, a climate denier who has repeatedly tried to sue the agency in the past.
Ms Jackson is clearly troubled by the political direction of her country.
“I think our leadership — American leadership in the world — remains important and will be missed,” she said.
But corporate giants like Apple,
Despite the US pulling out of the Paris Climate Accord earlier this year, Apple is one of many US companies that remain committed to the goals of carbon reduction outlined in the global agreement.
“We have had since 2012, the first data centre that relies purely on renewable energy,” Ms Jackson said. “If we can do it, you should expect the same from every company.”
Apple releases Product Environment Reports detailing the impact the process of developing each product has on the environment and said its latest iPhone range had the lowest carbon footprint yet.
For instance, Apple engineers worked to produce “low carbon aluminium” used in the iPhone 8 as a part of its continued quest to produce greener products. But while Apple may be an industry leader in environmental initiatives, it is also considered a leader in corporate tax avoidance.
Earlier this month, the Paradise Papers shed light on Apple’s tax avoidance strategy which shifted profits from one fiscal haven to another. It was one of many corporations and individuals allegedly using loopholes to keep profits away from the taxman but the high profile company has attracted protests and criticism over its immense tax minimisation efforts.
“Apple’s most innovative product might be its tax-avoidance scheme,” wrote Slate this month.
Apple was ordered to pay 13 billion euros in taxes to the Irish government last year after EU regulators ruled a special scheme to route profits through Ireland was illegal.
“We’re the largest corporate taxpayer in the world,” Ms Jackson said. “And we follow the laws where they are, we’ve been really clear on all of those things.”
The reporter travelled to Melbourne as a guest of Apple