Are Apple’s Sustainability Improvements with iPhone 13 and Apple Watch Series 7 Enough?

BY Chandraveer Mathur

Published 26 Sep 2021

iPhone 13 Sustainability

Apple’s website proudly claims that it is now carbon neutral and that by 2030, every Apple product will be too. The company also touched upon its advances in this direction with the iPhone 13 lineup and the Apple Watch Series 7. Read on to discover all the sustainability improvements Apple has made with its latest products.

To optimize its offerings in line with the sustainability goals, Apple must optimize the product for the consumption of natural resources during its entire life cycle, not just during production. Apple claims that around 84 percent of the carbon emissions for the iPhone 13 are generated during the production stage.

The iPhone 13 mini generates 61kg of carbon emissions in the lifetime of every device produced. For the iPhone 13 Pro Max, that number climbs to 74kg per device produced.

iPad mini sustainability

What Changes for Apple with the iPhone 13 Series and Apple Watch Series 7?

To lessen the environmental impact of the millions of iPhones sold each year, Apple switched to using 100 percent recycled gold to plate the logic board on the iPhone 13 series, a first for the company. The solder joints are comprised of 100 percent recycled tin. Apple switched to using 35 percent more recycled plastic in up to 15 components.

The Taptic Engine, as Apple likes to call its haptic feedback unit, also uses 100 percent recycled tungsten. Apple claims that this one component alone uses 99 percent of the tungsten used in the iPhone 13 series. The magnets get the same treatment. They are comprised of 100 percent rare earth elements.

For the Apple Watch Series 7, Apple claims progress has been made as well since it sports a case made of wholly recycled aluminum. Like the iPhone 13, the display glass is claimed to be arsenic-free, PVC-free, mercury-free, and Beryllium-free.

Apple’s infographics that were on display for several seconds during the iPhone and Apple Watch Series 7 launch outlined the prominent changes Apple has taken to make the device more environment-friendly.

Apple watch 7 sustainability

What Changes for the Consumer?

Apple wants consumers to believe that they are purchasing a more environmentally responsible device. Yes, Apple may have dug into its supplier logistics and its material sourcing systems, but it could have optimized the processes to be more sustainable.

The consumer is led to believe that Apple is making strides in environmental sustainability. However, a quick look at Apple’s claims shows that there isn’t much to boast about here. For instance, mercury-free glass manufacturing has been the industry standard for years now. Additionally, arsenic used to produce glass is completely consumed in the process and doesn’t leave residue in the finished product.

Apple would argue that the number of devices it sells and recycles exponentially scales up the impact of its efforts. However, the likes of Louis Rossmann beg to differ.

Repairability and Sustainability Go Hand-in-Hand

It is public knowledge that Apple’s iPhone range, MacBooks, and Apple Watch lineup are notoriously hard to repair. It can be argued that components are flawed by design and even alleged to have been engineered to fail. For instance, the 2016 to 2018 MacBook Pros were plagued by a display issue that was later attributed to a display ribbon cable that was too short for the job.

The cable would give way after stress reversal and fatigue from repeated opening and closing of the notebook lid. This caused the display to show vertical bright and dark bands from the bottom bezel. The issue came to be known as the Flexgate, and a US judge at one point stated that Apple intentionally sold MacBooks with defective displays since they were designed to come in for repair inevitably.

In several cases, the estimated cost to repair makes a strong case for purchasing a new device instead. Apple makes sure to charge a pretty penny for those who do get the device repaired.

Understandably, Apple’s design decisions that impact the repairability of its products highlight that there is significant room for improvement. A product that must be repaired repeatedly due to wear in the course of regular use is the direct opposite of an environmentally friendly product.

We hope Apple makes products more repairable, designs them ethically and more thoughtfully, for the environment if not for us consumers. What do you think about Apple’s sustainability goals? Share your thoughts in the comments below.