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CA35 - Quick thought about carbon
How Apple's massive announcement is really not the solution we need.
THE TOPIC - LESS NEW, MORE USED
Let me start by saying that I’ve always been a huge Apple fan. From my first Mac laptop (remember those beautiful white ones?) to my current stock of Mac Mini, Ipad, Iphone, and Airpods. I just love the product they put together and the appearance is beyond anything else.
So why did this video blow up? Well first of all it was a masterclass in advertising and story-telling. This is something that Apple has always excelled at since my favorite Mac vs PC commercials aired in the early 2000’s. Fast forward to 2023 and instead of publishing a boring list of ESG stats about company sustainability, they told a story about it. A story where mother nature is angry at corporate America about it’s lack of care for the environment only to be brilliantly shut down by the geniuses at Apple.
Wait - did we get that right? Apple convinced Mother Nature that it’s actually doing a pretty good job for the environment? … Now you see what I mean by masterclass. In real-life I’m pretty sure that Mother Nature would have slapped Tim Cook in the face with a dead salmon
All this to be said, Apple is doing a good job of being transparent and talking about emissions. They have made some really ambitious goals and they are pushing the boundaries of what it means to be a sustainable company - at least for one that produces the amount of stuff that they do. Lloyd Alter of Carbon Upfront! has a great article titled - Are the new Apple watches truly carbon neutral - I suggest you give it a read.
That is a good segway into the second reason this video got a lot of hype. Apple's first carbon-neutral product, the Apple watch. I don’t want to get into the details of this claim here, but the real issue here is that we don’t need more carbon-neutral products, we just need less stuff. As Lloyd so simply puts it in his article - the only truly carbon-neutral watch is the one you don’t buy.
Wouldn’t it have been actually shocking if instead of promoting yet another new product, apple decided to not release a new watch this year? Instead - we are spending all that product development money on repairing older watches for less cost. Now THAT would start to move the needle.
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WHY IT MATTERS
Less new, more used matters for three primary reasons:
New stuff isn’t really carbon-neutral
We throw away so much stuff
Promoting the right stuff will change the world
Let’s dig a little deeper:
1 - New stuff isn’t really carbon-neutral
Carbon neutrality in new products, especially new things like tech, is mostly just an accounting exercise to offset emissions. The real issue here is that buying a carbon-neutral watch every year isn’t a good choice for the environment just like buying a Tesla isn’t really helping either. Better than terrible shouldn’t be the target. Building materials are the same. Sure, a lot of aluminum is recycled but it’s still terribly damaging to the environment, especially raw. Don’t be fooled by clever marketing trying to convince you otherwise.
2 - We throw away so much stuff
One of the best ways to use less new stuff is to use more used stuff. The amount of waste we produce as a society is staggering just look at this:
3 - Promoting the right stuff will change the world
In our society, we’ve relied on profits and new products to drive growth and build wealth. The problem is now we generally only promote new things because that’s what we’ve seen around us. We need to start promoting that project that “just got a renovation” and that project that decided to not go ahead because they didn’t really need the space. These are the projects that will help us use less stuff, which is really the most impactful change we can make.
1 PERSON TO FOLLOW
Lindsay is dedicated to reducing the carbon impacts of the built environment as a Senior Associate at RMI. She splits her time between the Urban Transformation team, where she works on embodied carbon, urban nature (nature-based solutions), and extreme heat mitigation, and residential electrification, and the Third Derivative Program, where she leads the building and low-carbon materials sector research and due diligence.
1 RESOURCE TO ACT ON
Have you used the Pathfinder Tool? It can be used to visually explore a range of design options to assess their impacts on building performance. Super easy to use and creates some pretty awesome graphics as well. Input on both operational and embodied carbon.