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NewClimate Institute Reacts to Apple’s Carbon Neutral Apple Watch Claims

Apple spent a good deal of time in its Wonderlust presentation talking about how the new Apple Watch Series 9 and Apple Watch Ultra 2 are carbon neutral when paired with particular watch bands. But what does that mean, and how should those of us not deeply enmeshed in the climate world understand the claim?

While researching how Apple stacks up against other multinational corporations, I stumbled across the NewClimate Institute, a German non-profit whose goal is to “generate ideas on climate change and drive their implementation.” NewClimate publishes the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor, which assesses the transparency and integrity of 24 major companies’ climate pledges and strategies. Apple ranks highly in the group.

So what about Apple’s claim that these new Apple Watch models are carbon neutral? A Q&A with the authors of the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor leads off with:

Apple is one of very few companies assessed in the Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor (CCRM, published February 2023) to have set and be implementing reasonably ambitious medium-term emission reduction targets. However, we found that Apple’s carbon neutrality claims create an unnecessarily misleading exaggeration of the company’s ambition. Without the misleading marketing, Apple could stand out as a role model for several aspects of its climate plan, but there remain also significant areas of potential improvement.

Apple has reduced the product emissions for these Apple Watch models by over 75%. That’s great, but Apple offsets the remaining 25% by purchasing carbon credits. Although Apple says it procures credits only from “high-quality” projects, natural carbon credits are controversial because (among other reasons) forestry and land-use projects are likely to be only temporary and thus not equivalent to not emitting the greenhouse gasses in the first place.

I encourage anyone interested in learning more about corporate climate claims to read the NewClimate Q&A and relevant portions of the full Corporate Climate Responsibility Monitor 2023.

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Comments About NewClimate Institute Reacts to Apple’s Carbon Neutral Apple Watch Claims

Notable Replies

  1. The NewClimate Institute is taking a very hard line on Apple’s claims, and I would say they are being fair. Carbon offsets may have seemed like a good idea when the idea was launched, but they have become very dodgy. They are used mainly to “offset” emissions that are difficult or expensive to reduce. Airlines are a good example; we’re a long, long way from “zero-emission” airliners. So people concerned about the environment who wanted to minimize their emissions, would buy carbon offsets. But groups like the NewClimate Institute started looking carefully at the offsets, they found the projects being funded often would have been done anyway, or weren’t actually going to reduce carbon emissions significantly. Apple should know better, and be honest about emissions – or their limited ability to control the emissions of their suppliers.

    What Apple should be doing is trying to reduce their environmental impact is developing ways to reduce consumption of materials and power and increase reuse, like designing MacMini or iMac enclosures that could be refurbished to house the next generation of electronics. Apple already is doing a good job in reducing the power use of its products, which is an important part of controlling emissions.

  2. Yeah, I think Apple is aware of the issues with carbon credit offsets, given this bit in the press release about the carbon neutral watches. And what Apple is doing in this regard sounds positive, but overall, it seems that offsets just aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

    Investing in High-Quality Carbon Removal

    After achieving steep reductions in product emissions, Apple plans to cover residual emissions with high-quality carbon credits primarily from nature-based projects that remove carbon from the atmosphere, like restoring grasslands, wetlands, and forests. Carbon removal is critical to addressing climate change and achieving global climate goals, as leading scientific bodies like the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have emphasized.

    Apple defines high-quality credits as those from projects that are real, additional, measurable, and quantified, with systems in place to avoid double-counting, and that ensure permanence. Apple has helped advance natural carbon-removal solutions that meet this definition by creating the innovative Restore Fund, which currently supports projects in Latin America. The company uses credits from projects that are certified to international standards such as Verra; the Climate, Community & Biodiversity Standards; and the Forest Stewardship Council.

    For the carbon neutral Apple Watch models, the high-quality carbon credits used to compensate for the remaining emissions will come from projects like the Restore Fund’s investments with Arbaro Advisors and BTG Pactual Timberland Investment Group, which are helping to restore and protect high-quality working forests and native ecosystems in Paraguay and Brazil.

    Part of the problem may be that some of these projects may have other benefits, such as planting mangroves in coastal areas where they’ll protect the shoreline from rising sea levels and intense storms. Apple may want to do such things and get credit for them as a carbon sink as well, in essence double-dipping on legitimately useful projects.

  3. I agree. To me, Apple was trying to do the right thing, but when it came to trying to reach worthy goal of zero emissions they yielded to the temptation to fudge the accounting rather than admitting that they don’t yet have a way to reach the goal on schedule.

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