Apple shows time is not up for carbon neutral (yet) but these are concerning times for such claims. By David Burrows.
This month’s offering begins with a story about watches; Apple ones to be precise – some of which are now carbon neutral. “Our first carbon neutral products were made in a uniquely Apple way, steeply reducing carbon emissions from materials, electricity, and transportation through innovation and design,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives.
The press release and accompanying information is long but nowhere does it offer a breakdown of the watches’ footprints, nor by how much they have been reduced. A figure for the “small” amount of “high quality” offsets also appears to be missing. Just saying.
Releasing very specific products that have such a green claim (you have to buy a certain watch as well as associated bands and cases) in a portfolio the size of Apple’s can, as some reports have quickly noted, be a red herring. How the company is performing overall on emissions reductions is the indicator we should be using, and on that Apple seems to be doing ok with a 45% decrease since 2015 and a target of 75% by 2030 – at which point it will claim carbon neutrality by offsetting the remaining 25%. What this amounts to in tonnes of greenhouse gases is hard to decipher from the beautifully-designed but detail-shy graphics in its latest sustainability report. Then there is the accompanying video, which we will come back to.
In the current climate of carbon credit controversy the coverage of Apple’s announcement will be interesting for all companies to, ahem, watch.
Evian’s claim evaporates
Still on the theme of carbon neutral, more brands have dropped their carbon neutral claims – and many of them (perhaps understandably) on the quiet. Evian seems to have slipped away from this sustainability message back in May, with its website noting: “Since 2020, Carbon Trust has certified Evian globally as carbon neutral. When Evian’s current Carbon Trust certification for the United States and Canada expires in May 2023, Evian will not seek global recertification.” A spokeswoman said the decision had nothing to do with a lawsuit in the US which is challenging the carbon neutral claims used on the bottled water as not ‘carbon neutral’ based on how a reasonable consumer would understand the term.
That label is certified by the Carbon Trust. Or was. The trust this month dropped its carbon neutral certification and labelling scheme and is to replace it with four new consumer-facing carbon labels, including two that will allow companies to offer comparative carbon footprints from products within their portfolio (a meat-based meal and a plant-based one for example); or between their products and an industry standard – so you can compare milk with milk but not milk with soya, unless you sell both and want to use the first label. (Confused? Let us know and we’ll do a briefing).
Wyke Farms, which uses the carbon neutral label on some butter and cheese, claims the Carbon Trust may be “dumbing down” its schemes in order to attract more companies to make carbon claims. One of the two reduction labels is net-zero aligned but the other requires just a 5% reduction – some would say that’s better than nothing but others would note it’s nowhere near enough (and so wonder whether it warrants a green claim backed by a global leader in the carbon measurement space?).
Rich Clothier, MD at the cheesemaker, has clearly invested a lot of time, money and effort into the current scheme – and offers plenty of evidence to show the difference it has made to his operations. He says the current crisis around such claims is a failure of transparency and process rather than a failure of policy.
Whether he and others like it or not, even credible carbon neutral claims are criticised – on some social media channels there have been calls for the advertising agencies involved to be pilloried and punished too (45% of UK marketers in a recent poll said they were under pressure from clients to provide more green marketing).
The certification schemes and the whole of the voluntary carbon market (VCM) are reacting with tightening rules and new standards, frameworks and labels all on the way. Time will tell (yup, we know) if it’ll be enough to curb the carbon claim fears. What the VCM, the Carbon Trust, or any others have yet to offer, as far as we can see, are details of the benefits of carbon neutral to date.
How many tonnes of CO2e have been reduced by the 886 food and drink products using the Carbon Trust’s carbon neutral label, for example (the claims require reductions too, don’t forget)? And how many emissions and valuable projects are at risk when all those brands stop offsetting when their 12-month carbon neutral certification runs out?
Apple will keep ploughing money into “planting forests” and not just trees, according to the much-watched and even more debated video that accompanied its latest sustainability update. It’s very Apple, as you’ll see: basically it is Apple staff reporting progress on emissions, materials and transport not to the board but to Mother Nature. It lacks context and not once does it talk about how the company’s business model might need to change from one based on selling as many gadgets as possible as regularly as possible (prepare for more on ‘sufficiency’ in next month’s update).
We were left chuckling by this put down to one employee: “You're seriously going to try to explain carbon neutral to Mother Nature.” Which was followed by conflation of the terms carbon neutral and net-zero. Seems Mother Nature might want to offer some consulting services too.