Apple's "Carbon Neutral" Claim: A Step Backwards?

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

In a recent announcement , Apple proudly labeled its new Apple Watch as "carbon neutral." While this might sound commendable at first glance, it's essential to delve deeper into the implications of such claims, as done in this recent Financial Times article , which also quotes Niklas Kaskeala, the chairman of the Compensate Foundation. Here's why we at the Compensate Foundation and many others find this declaration concerning:

A Blast from the Past?

Apple's announcement feels like a journey back in time. Claims like "carbon neutrality" and "offsetting" were all the rage a few years ago. However, the narrative has since evolved, with many organizations opting for more transparent and accurate alternatives. It's somewhat disheartening to see Apple, a tech behemoth, not keeping pace with this shift. For a more in-depth look, the Compensate Foundation's white paper discusses the merits of "non-offset" claims over traditional ones.

The Voluntary Carbon Market (VCM) Controversy

The VCM has been under the microscope for its questionable impact on the climate. It's rather surprising that Apple seems to be turning a blind eye to the criticisms surrounding carbon offsets. A revealing white paper from the Compensate Foundation indicates that over 90% of nature-based VCM projects are unsuitable for offset claims.

EU's Stance on Misleading Advertisements

With its vast European market, Apple should be more attuned to the EU's policies. The EU has recently taken a firm stance against misleading environmental claims, especially those based on emissions offsetting schemes. While this policy isn't flawless, it's undoubtedly a move towards transparency and accountability, as highlighted in this Compensate Foundation blog

The Timber Plantation Dilemma

Some of the credits Apple leans on are sourced from contentious timber plantation projects. As highlighted in a Financial Times article, these projects have inherent systemic flaws. Trees from such initiatives are often harvested within a decade, leading to the rapid release of stored carbon.

Questionable Financial Additionality

Many of these timber projects are spearheaded by logging or timber companies. The primary objective? Harvesting trees upon maturity. With their clear business models, such projects pose significant challenges regarding their financial additionality.

The Broader Impact of Plantation Projects

A recent article in Trends in Ecology & Evolution underscores the wider negative ramifications of plantation projects. Commercial plantations, particularly those of pine, eucalyptus, and teak in tropical regions, can disrupt native ecosystems and exacerbate wildfires. 

What about double claiming?

When making counterbalancing or offset claims, it is imperative to prevent any instances of double claiming. Can Apple confirm that the credits it utilizes are not concurrently claimed by the host country of the project?  It's possible that Apple might be leveraging older credit vintages; however, the availability of these is rapidly diminishing in the market. How does Apple plan to guarantee that the host country implements corresponding adjustments for credits post-2021?

Wrapping Up

Given the ongoing debates around the VCM and the inherent issues with counterbalancing claims, Apple's recent stance raises eyebrows. It doesn’t seem in tune with the recent developments regarding corporate climate claims. From the point of view of consumers, it is also wildly misleading. Apple can and should do much better than this. 

Niklas Kaskeala Chairman  Compensate Foundation

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