Our worlds are dominated by our devices. Most of us start the morning by checking our phones — news, Instagram, BeReal, whatever — before settling into a day in front of our computers or iPads. We can’t go more than a few hours (ok, minutes) without using our phones to send a text, scroll through (more) social media, take a photo or use a map. (I’ve never used a torch more in my life.) We might end the day hunkered down in bed with a MacBook, the glow of a streaming platform the last thing we see before we nod off. But how much do we think about the energy it takes to power these devices? Or the materials that go into making them? Apple, the global behemoth behind the products that define the era in which we live, has an ambitious road map towards making their business, and products, carbon neutral by 2030.
In July 2020, Apple announced its goal of a global net-zero climate footprint across its entire business, supply chain, and product life cycle (this includes the energy we use to charge our trusty devices). Last week, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives was in Australia to mark 40 years of Apple operating in the country. Whilst here, she announced three major new commitments in the areas of renewable energy, education, and support for Australia’s Indigenous communities.
“All these different threads that we've been working on for a long time came together,” Jackson tells me. “And it happened to also coincide with 40 years of being in the country.”
Before taking her role at Apple, Jackson was Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency. Appointed to the role by President Barack Obama, her mission was to reduce greenhouse gases, protect air and water quality, prevent exposure to toxic contamination, and educate communities on environmental issues. It was during her administration that the EPA declared that greenhouse gases were a threat to public health, leading to tighter regulations for vehicles and power plants.
She has now been at Apple for almost a decade, overseeing the company’s charge to protect the planet, empower people through education, and be a force for equity and justice. She sat down with RUSSH to talk about Apple’s new commitments to the environment, education and social justice in Australia, and the steps we can take as individuals to make a difference .
Apple’s global work to address the climate crisis
“The idea is we [Apple] are growing, but we're not having any impact on the planet from a climate perspective,” Jackson tells me.
In its first clean energy program outside the United States, Apple has announced that it will purchase energy from a new wind farm in Northern Queensland. By supplying enough renewable power to the grid — the wind farm will produce enough clean energy to power 80,000 homes — the company is supporting Australia’s transition to renewables, thereby making the act of charging your iPhone or Apple computer a carbon-neutral exercise. The Upper Burdekin Wind Farm is located in Gugu Badhun country and will begin operations in 2026.
Apple is already carbon neutral across its corporate emissions — this means the company powers itself by investing in 100% renewable energy, something it has been doing since 2018.
Apple’s 2021 environmental report showed that, in a year that saw a 33 percent increase in sales, its carbon footprint remained the same.
One of the companies biggest strategies to cut their carbon footprint is to use recycled materials in their products. Nearly 20 percent of all material used in Apple products in 2021 was recycled. Two recycling robots, named Daisy and Dave, disassemble and recover valuable key materials from their products, and a new robot, Taz, helps recover rare earth magnets which would be missed by conventional recycling methods.
“The first thing we did was start using recycled rare earth materials that are hard to mine and process,” Jackson continues. “Why? Because the payoff in terms of the carbon footprint is so remarkable. If you've been following our product launches, more and more, you see all this recycled material showing up in our products. And it has a huge impact on our carbon footprint, because it happens in the supply chain, in the background.”
In 2021, Apple’s trade-in program saw 12.2 million devices and accessories sent to new owners for a second life, and more than 38,000 metric tons of e-waste recycled globally.
“Making products that last a long time and continue to evolve in terms of people being able to find ways to trade them in at end of life, or trade in so you can buy your new product… Those are all options that are about thinking of our products as part of a circular economy, which is a big piece of what we have to do,” Jackson says.
Education opportunities for the growing tech sector
“Education is a way up and out to something better,” Jackson tells me. “Every parent dreams for their kid to be able to get an education and do better than they did.”
Apple has announced an expanded partnership with leading Australian universities, UTS and RMIT, that will teach students coding language to design and build their own apps and learn introductory skills.
“Coding is as crucial a tool as literacy and maths; it encourages critical thinking, problem solving, and creativity. We know that these are skills valued by employers and are in high demand in today’s workforce – no matter the job or career," said UTS Vice-Chancellor and President, Andrew Parfitt.
The four-week courses on the fundamentals of app development will open for enrolment later this year, and will begin in early 2023.
“It’s about demystifying technology,” Jackson tells me. “What I love about those programs is that they're not one or four year courses. You come in for four weeks, you pick something that you always wanted to tackle, and you use technology to solve that problem in your life. It makes you realise that technology is just a tool. Tim (Cook, CEO of Apple) always says, ‘Technology is not bad or good, it's people that infuse technology with values and value to society.’ ”
Support for Australia’s Indigenous Communities
Apple is bringing its Racial Equity and Justice Initiative to Australia, marking its first expansion outside of the United States. The initiative was conceived in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and seeks to address systemic racism and further opportunities for communities of colour.
Initial funding grants have been given to five organisations committed to advancing equity to Indigenous communities through education, economic empowerment, and criminal justice reform.
“This partnership with Apple, and the funding, will allow us to expand our reach into more Indigenous businesses,” says Tiarne Shutt, Associate Director at First Australians Capital. The Indigenous-led, not-for-profit investment fund provides access to capital for Indigenous enterprises, communities, land councils and other economic ventures. “There’s this myth that there aren't many indigenous businesses, it’s not true.”
Deadly Connections, an Indigenous-led organisation that supports First Nations people, families, and communities in the child protection and justice systems, is another of the recipients. “I can apply the funding and respond to community needs,” founder Keenan Mundine tells me. “It’s the true meaning of self determination. They believe in my fight and my cause. Not many people have done business like that.”
“It’s very much not about a big company coming in and saying, ‘Here's what you need to do,’ ” Jackson says. “It’s about funding people who are working within the communities to try to make change in education or economic empowerment or criminal justice.”
The remaining three grant recipients were ID. Know Yourself, an Indigenous-led organisation supporting Indigenous children living in the out-of-home care system; Original Power: an Indigenous-led First Nations clean energy network; and the Art Gallery of NSW’s Djamu Youth Justice Program.
How to manage climate anxiety
Jackson is aware that climate change is a growing concern for many young people. And while for some it can be a driving force for change, for others, it can be paralysing. She says that while the old saying, ‘think globally, act locally’ might sound cliche, it’s also true.
“You can't change the world on day one, but you can change your little corner of space,” she tells me. “What I say to people, young people in particular, is first start with you, the changes you want to make need to start with you. How do you get around? What do you eat…? You don't have to become a vegetarian or vegan tomorrow, but you can think about meat as sometimes — that makes a huge difference on the planet. Is biking an option? Is walking an option? Is carpooling or mass transit an option? Recycling is a huge opportunity for communities around the world, both food waste, and traditional recycling.”
I ask her about something I’ve heard her say in the past, that the old adage “you can either be successful or do the right thing” is false.
“We don't see a trade off between that [being successful] and also doing right by the planet. And that doesn't mean we're perfect. And it doesn't mean we get it right all the time. And I think we can always do better. There’s always more we can do and that's what leadership is about.”