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Read Apple’s 2020 Environmental Progress Report

A few weeks ago, Apple released its 2020 Environmental Progress Report. It’s a masterpiece of communications, starting with a gorgeous website with progressively revealed high-level content as you scroll. More About buttons provide additional details on the site, but the mother lode is a 99-page PDF. I’d encourage anyone with more than a passing interest in environmental issues to read the full PDF because it’s impressive to see just how much time and money Apple is putting into its environmental efforts. We think of Apple as a technology company, but it’s doing more than many organizations that focus exclusively on the environment.

Apple 2020 Environmental Progress Report site

Apple’s Environmental Progress So Far

Most notably, of course, Apple’s stores, data centers, and offices in 44 countries are powered with 100% renewable energy, much of it generated by Apple-driven solar, wind, hydro, and biogas installations. Even better, over 70 of Apple’s suppliers have committed to using only renewable energy for producing Apple products. As of April 2020, Apple is carbon neutral for its corporate emissions, thanks to investments in projects that protect and restore forests, grasslands, and wetlands. 

But it doesn’t stop there. In the past 11 years, Apple has reduced the average energy use of its products by 73%, to the point where the company estimates that it costs only $0.70 per year to charge an iPhone 11 Pro once per day. Apple is also working hard to reduce its use of virgin materials that come with significant environmental impacts. For instance, the Taptic Engine in the iPhone 11 models uses 100% recycled rare earth elements, a first for any smartphone, and the 2019 MacBook Air has 40% recycled materials overall.

Apple has also reduced its use of plastics in packaging by 58% over the past 4 years, and all of the paper used in packaging comes either from recycled sources or responsibly managed forests. Through partnerships with The Conservation Fund and the World Wildlife Fund, Apple says it has improved the management
 of more than 1 million acres of working forests in the United States and China.

Apple’s Environmental Goals

As impressive as these achievements are, they pale in comparison with the company’s larger goals:

  • By 2030, Apple wants to be carbon neutral across its entire footprint, meaning that it will take into account the carbon impact of the entire lifecycle of its products. That will require low-carbon designs, increased energy efficiency, transitioning its supply chain to 100% renewable energy, avoiding direct carbon emissions, and scaling up investments in carbon removal projects.
  • Apple wants to work toward using only recycled and renewable materials in both products and packaging. There’s no time frame on that ambitious goal, but the company does say that it’s trying to eliminate all plastics in packaging by 2025.

The more I read through Apple’s Environmental Progress Report, the more astonished I became. I think it’s safe to say that I pay more attention to Apple than most people, and while I’ve seen Apple’s press releases on a solar farm here or reduced use of toxic materials there, I had never fully internalized just how much Apple does with the environment in mind. The report is definitely worth your time.

Apple’s Environments of Scale

My first thought was that Apple must be spending billions on these efforts. As far as I can tell from the Environmental Progress Report and Apple’s financial filings, the company never says exactly how much. However, it does trumpet the fact that it has issued $4.7 billion in “green bonds,” which are fixed-income investments whose proceeds must go to specific environmental projects. Apple also claims that it is the largest corporate issuer of green bonds, though I’m not financially savvy enough to know why it would want to issue bonds rather than financing environmental efforts directly.

I suspect that Apple can do all this for the environment in large part because it makes so much money. Scale is important here—when we were running Take Control Books, we donated $0.25 per print-on-demand copy sold to a charity that planted trees. I don’t remember the total amount we ended up donating, but it was a drop in the ocean compared to what Apple is doing.

Reading about Apple’s environmental achievements and goals makes me feel better about Apple’s traditionally high prices. We all have different thresholds, I’m sure, for how much more we’re willing to pay to ensure that a manufacturer isn’t engaging in horrible behaviors like forced child labor or egregious pollution. With Apple, it’s clear that some percentage of the purchase price goes to deeply considered and carefully analyzed reductions in environmental impact. I’m willing to make that tradeoff for devices that I use all day, every day.

Of course, Apple has multiple motivations for its environmental efforts. Apple is a for-profit company, so if building a massive solar farm to power a data center results in long-term reduced energy costs along with the boost toward the effort to be carbon neutral, that’s a double win. Similarly, you may have noticed that the boxes that many Macs come in are smaller than they used to be—Apple has reduced the amount of packaging necessary to protect them in shipping. That’s good for the environment, particularly with reduced plastics, but it also means that more units fit in a shipping container, which reduces Apple’s transportation costs (and also its carbon emissions from shipping). And while Apple has numerous environmental projects that benefit the communities that host Apple data centers, those may be accompanied by tax breaks and generalized goodwill. 

It’s easy to be cynical and suggest that Apple’s doing some of these things only because it saves money. But that’s missing the point—the best ways to protect the environment, the ones that we want all companies to be doing, are those that are both environmentally positive and improve the bottom line.

Some years ago, there was a lot of coverage about how Walmart played hardball with its suppliers, forcing them to accept razor-thin margins to be able to sell their products to Walmart. It’s now clear that Apple is using similar corporate pressure on its suppliers to get them to agree to commit to clean energy, waste reduction, and lowered greenhouse gas emissions. Is Apple throwing its weight around? Yes, just as Walmart was (and continues to do), but with a greater good in mind, rather than just shaving a few pennies off already cheaply made products.

Apple CEO Tim Cook has said:

Climate change is real and we all share a responsibility to fight it. We will never waver, because we know that future generations depend on us.

In many ways, climate change is just like today’s coronavirus crisis. It’s a global threat that ignores borders, kills people, and destroys economies. The difference is that climate change moves slowly, so its mortality and economic effects add up gradually over decades rather than overwhelming us in a period of months. But there won’t be quick fixes, either—there’s no vaccine for climate change. Bill Gates lays this out well in a recent GatesNotes post called “COVID-19 is awful. Climate change could be worse.

Even Apple’s efforts are unlikely to make a significant dent in the climate change problem—it’s just too vast—but I hope they can serve as a role model, both for other large businesses and for governments that seem to lack the willpower to move in the necessary direction. 

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Comments About Read Apple’s 2020 Environmental Progress Report

Notable Replies

  1. I’d be a lot more impressed if Apple dropped its resistance to Right to Repair. And didn’t have things ike throw-away ear buds.

  2. Indeed! I was planning to mention the Right to Repair stuff as something Apple needed to improve on, but it was one of those thoughts that occurred to me during a long bike ride and that I forgot about when finalizing the article.

  3. Yep. The best way to avoid e-waste is to make products that last for a very long time. This includes (but is not limited to):

    • Easy and cheap to repair/replace components (for consumers as well as repair shops)
    • User-replaceable batteries
    • User-replaceable and upgradable RAM and storage
    • Software support for as long as the hardware remains viable
    • The ability to use third-party system software when the manufacturer drops their support
    • Standard interfaces that “just work”

    You find this all the time with stereo equipment - especially older gear. Audio and video cables are standardized, allowing you to mix and match equipment from different vendors. The signals for analog audio are so standardized that I can take equipment manufactured in the 1930’s from anywhere in the world and it will easily work with anything manufactured today.

    It was also common (until the mid-90’s) for equipment manufacturers to include schematics with every unit sold - either in the owner’s manual or on a sticker attached inside the device’s enclosure. Service manuals were also readily available, usually for an extra fee, but available to anyone who wants to pay for them. There’s no real reason why companies can’t go back to doing this other than an active desire to generate e-waste when products break.

  4. While I agree with you overall, “Right to Repair” definitely has some problems that I saw first hand as a 15-year Apple Retail employee. You simply would not believe how many customers mess up and totally ruin their devices by trying to do repairs themselves. Things like replacing a battery or the touch screen on an iPhone. Then, at that point, they would bring the iPhone (or Mac) to the store and expect Apple to fix it once they’ve clearly damaged it. This is problematic in so many ways because Apple can’t be responsible for either the bad repair job or the quality of the third party parts they used to do the repair. And a lot of the time, we could not undo the damage they’ve done and as a result, the customer wound up having to pay for a complete replacement, incurring much more cost than if they brought it to the store for repair in the first place. These incidents are why Apple doesn’t sell service parts to customers…

  5. I now know people in Ag twitter who work on farm equipment. They see farmers bringing in brand new disassembled transmissions expecting the dealer to repair them for free after they mucked them up. Many other negative opinions about how farmers abuse their equipment but that’s another story. So yes, there are people who will try self repairs and expect Apple to fix it for free. And sometimes Apple will not want to touch it even for a fee because they might not be able to evaluate the full amount of damaged. That happened to people making a video and took apart their brand new iMac Pro and dropped the screen, breaking it.

  6. And so this is the fault of the buyers, and not that of Apple for purposely making the devices impossible to open or repair/replace known life-limited components? This seems more like a planned obsolescence move by Apple rather than a cost reduction tact, and clearly anti-consumer.

  7. From bjmajor’s description, the difficulty of opening the case had absolutely nothing to do with the voiding of Apple’s warranty for repairs. The fact that the owner damaged the internals rather than fixing fixing anything, or they tried replacing a part with a substandard non Apple part that wouldn’t function properly, was why they would have to pay for Apple to repair it. It is a “you broke it; you pay for it” scenario.

    One of the reasons why I prefer Apple stuff is that their products are more durable, longer lasting and safer on a dollar for dollar comparison than those of competitors. Stuff of this magnitude never happened with Apple hardware:

    And none of these flamed out devices had their internals tampered with by their owners.

  8. If it truly were a planned obsolescence move, Apple would not be replacing batteries, cameras, and broken screens for models that are generations back from the current phone. As of November, we were still repairing models as old as iPhone 5…

  9. Exactly.

    In a case where a customer screws up their device Apple is perfectly within their right to charge for whatever repairs are necessary to restore the device. And nobody would fault them for it.

    That said, none of that is an argument in favor of letting Apple be some kind of uber-nanny who gets to decide which risk I as the person who bought the device am willing to take. If I can repair a device safely and without screwing it up, I should be perfectly within my right to do so. Even more so when I can carry out a repair Apple would no longer cary out (with the corresponding environmental impact). They have no business impeding that. I’m a big boy, I don’t need Apple to protect me from my own risk assessment. If I pay full price for an Apple device I want to be able to use it as I like. I’m not a renter or lessee. I own the kit. In my book, that’s where the bucks stops. If I do nothing reckless they have no business interfering with that. In a world where everybody is claiming they are out-greening each other, I can’t believe we are even debating this.

  10. This got the little wheels turning in my brain. Apple is making durable, long lasting, environmentally sustainable hardware, and frequently updating its OSes, software and building out services are great ways to keep buyers locked in to an ecosystem. So is offering extended warranties and comparatively easy to access repair services.

    Keeping Macs, iPhones, iPads, Watches, AirPods, Beats alive is what sells services, and we can soon add the upcoming glasses into the picture. It’s a sustainable business and environmental model. Would Samsung, Dell, Lenovo, HP, etc. keep supporting its hardware as long as Apple does, even making a commitment to support Intel Macs for five years after switching to ARM?

  11. Having only Apple to go to for repairs is the very essence of the issues being fought by the right-to-repair movement, and a key part of planned obsolescence with their monopoly on repair price setting.

  12. Planned obsolescence means discouraging a buyer from holding onto a product too long without replacing it or actively discouraging repairs on said product in favor of getting a new one. I’ve already stated that Apple doesn’t do this as they repair several previous generations of iPhone.

    Want to fix it yourself or go to one of many Mall kiosks there are for iPhone repair? Apple’s not stopping you from doing either. But those kiosks don’t have Apple-trained technicians or approved service parts to do the job and in using them, you are taking a risk that is simply not worth it if something goes wrong. The choice is totally up to you.

  13. I would be unable to buy parts to fix my TV or monitor, microwave or most of my other household devices either, even if I wanted to. And neither my Sony TV and DVD player, my Samsung monitor, or any of my removable hard drives came with an instruction manual or have online repair guides. I probably could not buy replacement parts for them anyway. And Apple does have authorized service providers, including Best Buy. I would have to go there to fix any of the above mentioned products as well.

    Other companies build computer models with cases that are hard to crack. Here’s one example:

    The only example I could find of possible planned obsolescence of any Apple products was “battery gate,” when Apple slowed down the iPhone 6. Samsung was guilty of it as well. And Apple quickly offered free repairs.

    There are, however, very many conspiracy theories about Apple and planned obsolescence out there:

    I suggest reading earlier posts in this thread about the longevity of Apple devices.

  14. This is not the case. Apple IS stopping you from using third-party repair shops. They lobby for legislation to make such work illegal, citing irrelevant laws like the DMCA and anything else their lawyers can think of.

    They’ve also put encryption codes in batteries and screens so a third-party repair shop can’t replace them without extensive hackery. Even replacement with a genuine Apple part will often fail, simply because Apple deliberately designed the products to prevent this.

    They make design changes that serve no purpose other than to make it extra-difficult for third parties to get replacement parts. Go watch Louis Rossmann’s videos and you’ll see plenty of examples where Apple replaced an easily available chip (e.g. which you could buy from DigiKey or Mouser) with a different chip from the same manufacturer that has the exact same functionality (maybe only differs by swapping the signals on two pins), but that the manufacturer is not allowed to sell to anybody else. So the only way a repair shop can get the chip is to pull it from a junked computer.

    And then they go to court and claim that third-party repair shops can’t do the work because they use parts pulled from scrap boards. Which they are doing specifically because Apple designed their products in order to eliminate any other possibility.

    Apple’s argument against right-to-repair is 100% a business/political decision and has absolutely nothing to do with consumers, products, technology, the environment or anything else. Those are all just excuses.

  15. One can and I have purchased parts to fix my TVs, Microwave, Refrigerator, and many other consumer items. But by glueing Apple devices shut, using odd screw heads, not selling parts, and many other actions, Apple is completely different and definitely not repair or consumer friendly. You do not understand the right-to-repair movement.

  16. This program is a PR stunt. It may help Apple expand their network of stores that can perform repairs, but it does absolutely nothing to help consumers or independent repair shops.

    • Shops need to take down all customer contact information including their home addresses and submit it to Apple, who can use it for anything they want. Customer privacy is forbidden.
    • Shops are not allowed to maintain stock of parts. For every repair, the customer needs to drop off the equipment and wait for Apple to ship the replacement part so the shop can install it. So a one-hour job has to take over a week to complete.
    • Shops are forbidden from doing any repair jobs other than battery and screen replacements. Anything else breaks? You have to tell the customer to mail it to Apple. You can’t repair it yourself and you can’t mail it to Apple on the customer’s behalf.
    • Shops are prohibited from selling any products that Apple decides are “prohibited” whether or not they are used to repair Apple products.
    • The prices for replacement parts are the same high prices that Apple charges. And shops can not perform warranty repairs, so those costs have to be passed on to all customers.
    • Shops can be surprise-audited and fined at any time, even up to five years after terminating the agreement

    This program doesn’t help the consumer in any way. Consumers get the exact same (or worse) service that they would get by going to an Apple Store and have to pay the full out-of-warranty price for services, no matter what the problem is. And the shops get severely punished if they try to do anything other than what Apple lets them do.

    Please go watch Louis Rossmann’s video which explains all this far better than I could:

  17. So Apple should reduce the functionality, safety, quality and integrity of its hardware? Turn its back on its commitment to lightweight, thin, speedy, durable, user friendly, precisely engineered, beautifully designed mobile and desktop devices? They should be using gigundo screws and larger, less reliable, removable batteries that will make devices bigger and heavier? Use less glue so backs of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, might pop off when people would never want them to?

    I also think it’s highly unlikely that there is a significant number of people who invested a lot of money for an iPhone, iPad or Mac are willing to risk bricking it to change a battery or replace a screen. And if a shop wants to be certified to repair Apple devices, they should agree to use Apple parts and agree to have certified repair people.

  18. You’re absolutely right. In fact, Josh Centers wrote about this back in Feb right here on TidBITS. He used language such as “the program increasingly seems untenable for repair shops” and “onerous details of the IRP”. I believe he linked to the same Louis Rossmann video you did.

  19. Do you honestly believe that if Apple replaced their pentalobe and tri-wing screws on the inside of the phone with standard Phillips and Torx screws that it would ruin the beauty of an iPhone?

    Are you aware that you can get the exact same size screws with different heads and it won’t change a thing about the phone’s design or durability?

    Back when you only had to remove two screws to change a battery, iFixit used to include Phillips-head screws to replace the pentalobe screws. I can assure you (having done this procedure) that nobody can tell the difference without using a magnifying glass to inspect the screw heads.

  20. Repairability is simply another design goal that Apple could have, but for the most part does not.

    Some aspects of design are zero-sum—you can fit more batteries into a laptop and make it lighter if the batteries are not user-swappable—but many others, such as using obscure screws or relying on glue, are merely useful for preventing independent repair.

  21. I can’t think of an excuse for obscure screws but using adhesives as a fastener instead of screws can help make devices lighter and smaller. In assembly, I bet it’s often faster and cheaper to apply adhesive than to install tiny screws.

  22. I’d pay for the extra assembly cost of a few more screws, and any minuscule weight/size gain, if I could replace the battery, screen, memory or any of a number of other things myself. I bought the item, I own it, I should be able to take the “risk” of repairing it myself.

  23. Fair point. I’d love to see close-up videos of how various things like iPhones and AirPods are manufactured. I’d think that adhesive would be tricky (well, sticky) to work with, but I’m sure people who design assembly lines have worked around such problems.

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