by Brandon Butler
Apple, iPhone 12, and the environment 10/13/2020

The Verge has a good overview of the 12 biggest announcements from today’s iPhone event, including the new HomePod Mini and the four new iPhones. The edited down 12 minute video (I’m sensing a theme) from The Verge video director Becca Farsace will give you exactly what you need to know about the new products.

One small announcement from today’s event that I wanted to focus on was Apple’s decision to no longer include a charging brick and headphones in the box, opting to just provide the iPhone and a USB-C to Lightning charging cable. This change is being made to all iPhones, including the older XS and 11 models that are still for sale, and the new iPhone SE.

I’m completely in support of this change, and like Apple said, I hope this is something other phone manufactures do copy from them. The number of people who don’t own a smart phone is minuscule, and the number of people upgrading from an older model is very high. Very few people are going to be negatively impacted by not including drawer clutter in the box.

Today, anyone with an iPhone has a Lightning cable and a charging port somewhere in their home, either the back of their iMac or the charging brick in their kitchen. Many people have multiple outlets for charging their iPhone. The need to supply users with yet another lower-power, slow-charging power outlet is a huge waste of resources. It also increases the shipping weight and volume of those boxes, and when you’re selling 100 million iPhones, every gram you can save on shipping not only helps your margins, but it helps the environment.

Apple even says in their video that there are “700 million Lightning headphones” and “2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third party adapters.” But if you really want a new pair of those terrible Lightning EarPods, they’re just $19.

The biggest knock against Apple in all of this is that they claim this is an environmental effort, but at the end of the day they’re just doing it to shave margins and save money. But I’d counter with Apple’s long standing efforts towards sustainability, with 2013 seeing all of Apple’s data centers using renewable energy, and in 2018 when Apple became 100% powered by renewable energy, from the retail stores to the data centers to the offices. A decade earlier, Climate Counts had said Apple was best to “avoid for the climate-conscious consumer,” but Apple turned their act around fast — Greenpeace commended Apple in 2015, saying, “Apple’s commitment to renewable energy has helped set a new bar for the industry.”

Today, Apple has committed to having its products and supply chain 100 percent carbon neutral in just another decade. That kind of commitment requires spending a lot of money — much more so than they’re saving by not including a power adaptor in the box.

Here’s how I look at it: if Apple is doing this for the environment, and this boosts their profits by 2%, then great — they’ve earned it for making a commitment to better our planet. But if Apple’s doing this to save money, and the environment is just marketing spin? I’m fine with that, too, although I can’t imagine a $2 trillion dollar company needs the benefit of whatever those tiny margins are going to provide. Don’t shame Apple for trying to save the planet.

I said back in July:

This is ultimately Apple positioning itself for the future, either for the next charging technology, or the next evolution in smartphone design, or both.

With the newly announced MagSafe chargers (using 100% recycled rare Earth elements in the magnets) and the slow transition away from wall chargers (and AirPods!), Apple is clearly eyeing a future not with Lightning or USB-C ports, but a truly wireless future without the need to plug in a cable — ever. And they’re doing it as environmentally safe as possible.