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Apple should follow B&O and make fully-sustainable iPhones

OPINION: With Apple’s latest digital live stream less than a week away, tech fans are already salivating at the thought of what tech goodies it’ll bring to the table.

And for good reason. Rumours suggest Apple will debut its iPhone 13 family of phones, an Apple Watch 7 wearable and the Apple AirPods 3 true wireless headphones.

Based on Apple’s past Q3 launch events, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest all these devices will make an appearance. September has been the staple point for Apple to unveil its latest entry into these lines for as long as I can remember.

But for me, there’s a more important segment I’m looking forward to. Specifically, an update on what it’s doing to become more sustainable.

For the last few years Apple’s always made a point of using its iPhone launch events to update press and fans on the latest steps it’s taking to reduce its environmental impact. Though they can reek of Silicon Valley smugness, it’s these segments from CEO, Tim Cook and Vice President, Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, Lisa Jackson that I’ve come to most enjoy during the presentations.

This isn’t because I’ve drunk the kool-aid, or can get over the fact that no matter how you spin it, big tech, as a whole, is hurting the environment. I’m also still hugely annoyed at its ongoing hostility to the right to repair movement. Apple’s actively tried to stop people repairing their own phones, by doing things like needlessly soldering parts in place.

I enjoy them because of the fact Apple’s making sustainability a central part of its strategy and has done some actually positive things as a result. Take a look at Apple’s 2021 Sustainability report and you’ll get a good overview, but the cliff notes is: the firm’s managed to make itself carbon neutral and is planning to extend that practice across its supply chain by 2030.

This is an undeniably good thing I wholeheartedly believe every company should take. But, to really put its money where its mouth is, I think Apple needs to take things a step further: it needs to let external regulators, like the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute, check its homework.

There are two reasons for this.

First, at the end of the day, Apple is a business, its purpose is to make money. It’s very good at it too, with the NASDAQ estimating its worth in the trillions and shares selling at record highs. As a result, these efforts will only continue as long as its leadership sees value in the practice, or personally cares about sustainability. Many don’t.

If Apple, at a senior level, signed up to have an external body accredit its products sustainability on an ongoing basis, this would offer a guarantee it wasn’t just resting on its laurels and the good will it’s accrued for its current work.

Second, because the science around sustainable product development, and by extension best practice, is constantly changing.

One of the reasons I specifically called out Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute as a solid choice is that it takes this into account and never dishes out lifetime sustainability certifications.

For those out of the know, Cradle to Cradle is a sustainability accreditation that marks products as bronze, silver and platinum tiers. The certification is updated on a yearly basis based on the latest scientific research on sustainability. It factors in everything from whether the product uses recycled parts, to the environmental impact of its supply chain and how easy it is to repair.

It’s one of the most stringent standards I’ve seen, with the Institute yet to award any product or company a platinum standard accreditation. Even when it does, the accreditation only lasts two years, at which point the product must be recertified using the Institute’s latest standard.

It’s this transparency and long-term commitment to product sustainability that will make a difference, as a product’s environmental impact doesn’t end the moment a new version comes out. This is why I was so impressed to see audio brand Bang and Olufsen pledge to continue using the standard in its product development earlier this year, when it became the first audio brand to achieve the bronze standard with its Beosound Level speaker.

It’s also why I can’t help but hope Apple will unveil plans to take a similar step at its next digital launch event next Tuesday.

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