In recent years Apple has put a big focus on its environmental credentials, and with the Apple Watch 9 the company made one of its biggest claims yet, saying that this wearable was ‘carbon neutral’, but that claim has been disputed.
According to a report in the Financial Times (via Ars Technica), a number of consumer and environmental groups have claimed that this is inaccurate because Apple relied on purchasing carbon credits to achieve carbon neutrality.
This means that Apple was – of course – creating carbon emissions to produce the Apple Watch 9, but that the money spent on these credits will be invested in projects such as reforestation, which removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The idea here is that Apple is completely offsetting its carbon use by investing in these projects. But critics claim this approach is flawed.
For one thing, there are questions over whether these schemes actually remove as much carbon as Apple’s production processes are emitting, with Niklas Kaskeala, chair of the board at the Compensate Foundation, saying that with timber plantations for example “trees are turned into pulp and cardboard or toilet paper” and that “the carbon stored in these products is released back into the atmosphere very quickly.”
Even if these projects really do fully offset Apple’s carbon emissions though, “it’s misleading to consumers to give the impression that buying the Watch has no impact on the climate at all” according to Gilles Dufrasne, a policy officer at the non-profit Carbon Market Watch, since Apple is still very much impacting the climate in the Apple Watch 9's creation. Dufrasne added that “it’s accounting tricks.”
This carbon neutral claim might be one that Apple and others won’t be able to make for much longer though, as the European Parliament and Council agreed in September to ban “misleading advertisements,” which include “claims based on emissions offsetting schemes that a product has neutral, reduced or positive impact on the environment.”
This ban hasn’t come into play yet, but it’s set to in 2026 – though that will only apply to the EU.
Apple's approach isn't without merit
It is worth noting, however, that while it’s probably shrewd being skeptical of any carbon neutral claims, Apple does appear to be doing more for the environment than many major companies.
As well as carbon credits, Apple is also making heavy use of recycled materials, clean electricity, and non-air transportation, meaning that increasingly its products are transported by ship or rail, rather than on planes, which are worse for the environment.
So the company deserves credit for this, it just might want to work on its wording – and perhaps rely less on carbon credits to reach its environmental goals.
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James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to 3G.co.uk, 4G.co.uk and 5G.co.uk and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.