We are experiencing significant heat, a condition manifested not only in literal terms – marked by escalating temperatures, intensified summers, and inundated coastal cities – but also metaphorically, through discussions inundated with climate and environmental jargon related to the prevailing hot climate conditions.

This article aims to dissect some global parallel events that occurred during September 2023. One of them was Apple’s iPhone and watch series launch. At the event, 11 minutes were spent making a solid attempt to reflect on the company’s best practices with regard to the environment.


Let’s begin with the five-minute '2030 Status | Mother Nature | Apple' skit: it is really difficult to not love Octavia Spencer’s performance as Mother Nature! The precision of the facts, numbers and the comprehensive representation of diverse elements such as packaging, electricity, water, transport, building operations, and carbon offsetting make it even more challenging to dismiss it as mere greenwashing or marketing. The encompassing scope and the meticulous portrayal of each aspect underscore the authenticity and depth of the genuine environmental considerations involved.

Well, if Apple had invested this level of effort into environmental initiatives and produced this skit at the beginning of this century, one might have appreciated the company's endeavours, perceiving them as voluntary and sincerely intended for environmental conservation.

It would have demonstrated a commitment to ecological responsibility, suggesting a genuine desire to foster environmental wellbeing (as represented in the skit), rather than merely complying with international standards, and serving as a potential marketing strategy to survive under the heat of climate action. After all, it is becoming increasingly difficult for big corporate giants not to take environmental measures.

Green consumerism

Beyond mere compliance with standards, industry giants like Apple must exercise vigilance concerning the phenomenon of green consumerism. Green consumerism denotes a conscious consumer choice to prioritise products with reduced environmental impact. It constitutes a societal shift towards favouring eco-friendly or 'green' products.

The numbers game is really beautiful. The skit represents a 95% emissions reduction. This sounds massive, but by checking on its website, it says 50% of shipping without the use of air transportation. Lisa Jackson very happily announced a 78% reduction in overall emissions of Apple's new watch, whereas the website states 75%.

Material circularity and carbon neutrality share an intricate connection. While Apple's website highlights the incorporation of up to 30% recycled or renewable material by weight in its products, the specific source of these materials is a crucial factor.

The concern arises regarding whether these materials primarily originate from post-consumer sources or if they are predominantly derived from surplus materials within Apple's own supply chain. Although both scenarios can be classified as recycling or renewing materials, they carry distinct environmental implications.

Materials sourced from post-consumer recycling

Materials sourced from post-consumer recycling typically have a more substantial positive environmental impact as they divert materials from landfills, reduce the need for virgin resource extraction, and lower overall energy consumption in production. Conversely, utilising leftover materials from the supply chain, while still beneficial, may not offer the same level of environmental advantages.

Hence, discerning the precise origin of the recycled or renewable materials is vital in assessing the true environmental efficacy of Apple's sustainability efforts. This distinction underscores the importance of transparency and accountability in achieving genuine carbon neutrality and advancing material circularity.

This article is in no way intended as a critique of Apple or any other entity striving to balance the carbon equation, all of which deserve commendation. Instead, it seeks to sound a note of ‘all that glitters is not gold!’ The pursuit of sustainability is a multifaceted and intricate endeavour that requires careful consideration.

Carbon neutrality is mainly achieved through shopping for carbon credits which shall do ‘environmental’ good in some part of the world by planting trees or implanting renewable energy projects.

The Apple skit puts forward fancy claims of planting forests, restoring mangroves and grasslands, which are, of course, not a corporate’s personal business. That is achieved through carbon offsetting, yet another fancy and blurred environmental key word.

Consistent decrease

The commendable aspect of Apple's environmental efforts is the consistent decrease in both gross and net emissions. However, an intriguing observation is the minimal disparity between gross emissions (before offsets) and net emissions (after offsets). This raises questions about the overall effectiveness of carbon offsetting as a strategy for achieving carbon neutrality.

A recent study led by Barbara Haya from the University of Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy analysed nearly 300 carbon offset projects. The study revealed significant inconsistencies and shortcomings in the carbon offset industry’s top registries, allowing developers to claim more climate-saving benefits than are justified.

The unregulated carbon offsets market operates through a handful of groups maintaining their registries. According to Haya, these groups generate revenue by issuing credits, creating a system that incentivises leniency and fuels a 'race to the bottom' due to lack of strict oversight and high standards. Haya's findings point to a systemic failure in the offset market, impacting not just forest management but all projects.

Barbara Haya, the director of the Berkeley Carbon Trading Project, views empty offsets as “paying for business as usual” behind a facade of decarbonisation. “My fear is that we’re going to look back at this brief moment in time when we had to really rein in our emissions,” she added, “and say we failed.”

As we approach 2030, a critical juncture in the global quest for decarbonisation, numerous challenges related to our strategies and visions for carbon neutrality unfold.

The escalating competition for rare earth minerals, essential for batteries powering renewables and electric vehicles, echoes past conflicts over fossil fuel resources, presenting a sense of déjà vu.

Effective solutions

In our haste and rapid advancement, we overlooked the essential aspect of circularity in developing so-called ‘green’ infrastructures. While greenwashing is undoubtedly a pressing issue, the question arises: are we prepared to implement effective solutions to combat it?

Recently, the European Parliament and Council reached a provisional agreement on new rules to ban any sort of misleading advertisements and provide consumers with better product information. This means all generic environmental claims, eg, 'environmentally friendly', 'natural', 'biodegradable', 'climate neutral' or 'eco' shall be banned and only sustainability labels based on approved certification schemes or established by public authorities will be allowed.

This endeavour appears commendable, and it reflects on we seriously need this kind of standardisation in all aspects. However, the pivotal question remains: do functional 'certification schemes' exist today? Which are reflecting internationally or, at the very least, European Union-level agreed-upon sustainability standards. We live in a world where a third of the population drives on the left-hand side of the road, and the rest on right. A couple of countries still have the liberty to not use the metric system (introduced in 1790s).

Nevertheless, it is only recently that the fruits of the European Parliament's regulatory efforts have begun to manifest, with the introduction of a standardised, one-size-fits-all charging port for all electronic devices across the EU.

This regulation has had a significant impact, particularly on companies like Apple, which had traditionally used proprietary charging ports. Apple has now introduced its first phone featuring a USB Type-C charging port, aligning with the unified standard, and extending this feature across its range of devices.

Harmonising technological ecosystems

The enforcement of such suitable standards not only exemplifies progress in regulatory compliance but also underscores the significance of harmonising technological ecosystems for enhanced interoperability and user convenience globally.

No matter what the intentions were, the Apple skit with Octavia Spencer and Tim Cook was cringe-worthy but effective.

In this crucial epoch, our endeavours to actualise a sustainable future prompt reflections on our preparedness and resilience in navigating the multifaceted landscape of environmental conservation.

The urgency to address these complexities is paramount, requiring a concerted effort to rectify past oversights and to innovate responsibly, ensuring that our pursuit of green alternatives does not replicate the environmental transgressions of the past. The essence of the solution lies in holistic, mindful development, and the integration of sustainable practices at every level of our ecological endeavours. 

Author: Lala Rukh is MaREI (SFI Research Centre for Energy, Climate and Marine research and innovation) doctoral researcher, working at the University of Galway. 


1) https://time.com/6264772/study-most-carbon-credits-are-bogus/

2) https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/ffgc.2023.958879/full

3) https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-carbon-offsets-renewable-energy/?leadSource=uverify%20wall

4) https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2022-carbon-offsets-renewable-energy/?leadSource=uverify%20wall

5) https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/i-cant-stop-thinking-about-how-awkward-apples-mother-nature-ad-was-i-finally-figured-out-why.html   

6) https://www.statista.com/statistics/528604/carbon-emissions-from-apple-by-segment/#:~:text=Apple%20Inc's%20gross%20emissions%20were,were%2020.6%20MtCO%E2%82%82e%20in%202022.