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| 4 minutes read

The Emperor’s New Moves: Apple Shows It’s Doing Environmental Sustainability Better

Apple’s video featuring its Environmental Progress Report has taken the internet by storm clouds.

To the delight of many corporates and ESG die-hards, the tech giant showcased its own refreshing approach on the typically dry annual exercise that usually comprises dense reports and jargon too daunting to read.

In the skit, Apple’s board members – featuring CEO Tim Cook and VP of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson – provide updates on their sustainability initiatives to a sceptical and weary Mother Nature, played by accomplished Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer.

After having heard other companies’ sustainability reports, Earth’s spokesperson is clearly frustrated by the lack of progress made.

But Mother Nature is caught by surprise when Apple’s leaders share the aggressive steps they’re already taking to achieve net zero by 2030.  

The list is extensive: convincing over 300 Apple product manufacturers to use 100% clean energy by 2030 as part of efforts to de-carbonise its supply chain; restoring damaged ecosystems to help sequester carbon, such as a mangrove forest in Colombia nearly a fifth the size of Singapore – among others.   

The targets publicised by the world’s “most valuable brand”, a title bestowed on Apple by Kantar in 2022, offers valuable insights into its business and public relations approach to environmental sustainability amid conflicting pressures and expectations.

Sustainability: Tensions Between Desire and Perception

The tension between the desire for change and the perception that all is not well with the corporate sustainability agenda is understandable.

It is the gap between reassuring narratives of progress and planet-saving derring-do, and rising criticism of big company ESG performance globally, that is confusing consumers – nine out of 10 of whom don’t believe brands’ sustainability claims, according to a YouGov market study.

Energy giants are accused of greenwashing by  ramping up exploration and fossil fuel production despite pledges to achieve net zero emissions by 2050; retailers have even marketed rayon fabric as sustainable bamboo when the production process uses toxins that can cause insanity among workers.

At the same time, a rising number of people – nearly two-thirds – believe that brands are as responsible as governments when it comes to addressing the global climate crisis. Two-thirds of respondents in a McKinsey & Company survey say they consider “sustainability” when making product purchases.

There’s no denying that businesses need to be more accountable and ethically conscious of their claims on sustainability, though simultaneously there’s a pressing need for global standards to be more aligned when it comes to defining what’s ‘green’ and what’s not.

A single comprehensive definition of green bonds and the bridging of regulatory gaps on its usage. Ensuring businesses and governments publicize reports on their carbon markets, and that they adhere to strict benchmarks when it comes to carbon trading. A standardized definition and measurement of the impact of carbon offset projects. Decarbonising electric vehicle battery production. The list goes on.

The path to a net-zero future will indubitably continue to be plagued by regulatory, technological, and financial challenges, not to mention political resistance. And no business or government will be immune to those problems.

Turning Scrutiny into Opportunity

Despite the difficulties however, Apple has soldiered on in confidence – and is leading the march towards an environmentally sustainable future.

Steve Jobs’ brainchild has come a long way in championing ‘green’ business practices that, in the words of Apple sustainability head Jackson, are aimed at “leaving the planet better than we found it”.

The Silicon Valley tenant has drawn down on energy consumption, increased the composition of renewables in its energy mix while phasing out coal, expanded the composition of recycled materials in its products, and issued USD4.7 billion in green bonds to invest in projects that reduce global emissions.

It has come from being labelled an “environmental laggard” on Forbes with an “F” rating by Greenpeace in 2011 to topping the 200Clean list in sustainable revenue by non-profit As You Sow, with USD259 billion of revenue coming from sustainable sources.

It didn’t happen overnight. 

Apple’s position today as a mover in sustainable innovation is a culmination of years of commitment, dating back to 2007. In the face of criticism for Apple’s then-alleged neglect of recycling e-waste and using toxic chemicals in the production process, Jobs saw an opportunity – years before the Paris Agreement – to listen and to change.

In an open letter to the public, he publicly acknowledged the company’s failure to externally and internally communicate the steps it was already implementing to become more environmentally conscious: phasing out lead-heavy CRT monitors, or banning the use of hexavalent chromium – 500 times more toxic than diesel exhaust. Jobs promised to no longer keep its employees and the public in the dark on its environmental agenda and he committed to do more, as part of the organisation’s pledge to become “a greener Apple”. Those initiatives are now consistently updated in its Newsroom.

This is not an endorsement of perfection.

Like all businesses, the company continues to come under scrutiny, with many still asking: Is Apple really as green as it claims?

Furthermore, the latest allegations surrounding child labour and forced labour among Apple’s suppliers have placed the organization under the microscope when it comes to human rights – an increasingly talked-about component of the ESG pillars. Indeed, the contentions over Apple’s commitment to labour rights has prompted it to agree to an audit of its labour practices in the US – though it would do well to expand the audit to all markets and make it a priority to address these allegations.

In spite of these criticisms, its proactive ESG responsiveness in both operations and communication has propelled it to the top of the best global brands, and kept it there, for 10 consecutive years – a clear win for its reputation. And the numbers speak for themselves: nearly USD400 billion revenue in 2022, which has quadrupled since 2011, reveals a brand that is liked, trusted, and used by over a billion users around the world.

Alongside the smiles, laughs, and positive feedback among corporates and the public, Apple’s latest PR attempt on sustainability will doubtless continue to receive criticism for not doing enough for the environment.

But getting the conversation going on what we can do for Mother Nature and our future is a step towards creating a more sustainable world that all businesses can support in their journeys to realize a net-zero world.

The views expressed herein are those of the author(s) and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting, Inc., its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals

FTI Consulting, Inc., including its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a consulting firm and is not a certified public accounting firm or a law firm.


esg, environmental, social, governance, sustainability, apple, greenwashing, net zero, strategic communications