Why Didn’t Apple’s iPhone 4S Announcement Include Anything About Environmental Impact?

Apple is fairly transparent about its environmental footprint, but seems reluctant to draw attention to the issue during big launches.


As anyone who read the news in English yesterday is probably already aware, Apple revealed its latest, the iPhone 4S. And while the company’s press releases touted the “beautifully thin glass and stainless steel design” and the “blazing fast performance and stunning graphics,” of the phone, Apple neglected to touch on a hot button topic in today’s electronics industry: environmental performance.

Apple has ranked poorly on Greenpeace’s Guide To Greener Electronics in the past. In the latest iteration of the guide, which grades electronics companies on policies related to toxic chemicals, recycling, and climate change, Apple was criticized, in particular, for providing its investors and customers with minimal details about things like its toxic chemical phase-out plan and supply chain and chemical management.

That’s not to say that Apple isn’t doing anything to demonstrate environmental leadership in the industry. In 2009, the company eliminated toxic chemicals like polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and brominated flame retardant (BFR) from its laptops, and it unveiled the Apple and the Environment website, which provides some granular information about their products’ carbon footprint, manufacture, transportation, energy efficiency, and more.

So why, you may wonder, should Apple have included any “green” information in the iPhone 4S announcement?

The Apple and the Environment website actually features a great deal of information about major Apple products–including the 4S. According to this site, the 4S differs minimally on the environmental front when compared to the iPhone 4, its immediate predecessor. The newer product has a lifetime greenhouse gas emissions rating of 70 kg, while the older iPhone has 55 kg. A small difference, but a difference nonetheless. 


Even if Apple didn’t want to draw attention to the fact that the iPhone 4S is more carbon-intensive than the iPhone 4, the company could have bragged about the new phone’s efficient use of materials, or the fact that it is virtually free of harmful chemicals. Tim Cook and company could have reminded Apple fanboys that, when they upgrade to a new, iPhone 4S, they can take advantage of Apple’s recycling programs to get rid of their old phones, responsibly. Not all phone makers can claim to have programs, and an environmental profile as strong as Apple’s.

Why so quiet, then? Do consumers care about the iPhone’s environmental impact? In a world where electronics are considered old after three years, it is a problem if they don’t. That problem won’t be fixed until companies like Apple step up and promote environmental advances they’ve made, or sustainable “features” they have developed, alongside the latest apps, chips and external design improvements.

Once Apple starts talking about sustainability as a feature, other electronics giants won’t be far behind. 

[Images: Apple]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.


About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.