Apple’s decision to no longer include wall chargers and earplugs in the new iPhone 12 boxes is good for business, but how good it will be for the planet is harder to see. The move saves the company money, but some of the environmental benefits can be offset by people buying earplugs and chargers separately.
Apple made the announcement during the October 13 event. Unlike previous models, the iPhone 12 comes with only a USB-C for a zipper cable. The company said that excluding wall chargers and earplugs would lead to less mining, packaging and planetary heating of carbon dioxide emissions associated with making the products. The company also received kudos from some environmental groups for reducing e-waste, a growing problem that Apple is contributing to with its constant flow of new gadgets. This week̵
“They sold this as a kind of environmentally friendly rule,” says Angelo Zino, a senior industry analyst with investment research firm CFRA Research. But Apple’s waste management is also a good financial move. “Obviously the bottom line has a lot to do with it.”
The transition to 5G is a big reason why Apple may be looking for cost savings by including fewer accessories with their phones, technical analysts say. The Verge. For the first time, the entire Apple series of new phones will support 5G. This makes it more expensive to make the iPhone 12 compared to the iPhone 11 because the components that enable 5G speeds are more complex and expensive.
Zino estimates that the radio frequency components alone in the new iPhone 12 will cost 30 to 35 percent more than they did in previous iPhones. “Apple is going to look at cutting costs in other aspects of the phone,” he says.
Deciding not to include a power block and AirPods with a new phone is one way to do that. It can only increase the company’s gross profit by telephone by just over 1 percent, says Gene Munster, a managing partner in the venture capital firm Loup Ventures. But there is something. “I just want to think of this as a maneuver to maintain the current profitability of the phone,” says Munster.
A company that makes a production choice that is good for the business and good for the planet seems like a win-win. But Apple assumes that those who buy the new iPhone already have old headphones and chargers ready for use instead.
If people decide to buy AirPods anyway because they do not already have earbuds, it’s a big win for Apple, but not for the planet. If Apple sells about the same number of phones this year as it did in 2018 – about 217 million – and only 5 percent of these people decide to add AirPods to their shopping cart, the company stands to earn another 700 million dollars in gross profit, according to Munster.
The problem is that buying chargers or headphones separately can mean more packaging waste and emissions from separate deliveries. Some of it can add to Apple’s carbon footprint, and some of it can be tackled on different companies’ carbon footprints if consumers decide to buy accessories from other suppliers. It does not necessarily reduce emissions in general; it just spreads the greenhouse gases between different companies.
“This is going to be a great blessing, at least in the short term, for accessory manufacturers selling USB-C chargers,” said Avi Greengart, founder and lead analyst at consulting firm Techsponential.
This is because the cable that comes with the iPhone 12 is not compatible with the power blocks that come with many previous iPhones. Consumers who do not have a compatible charger lying around must purchase a USB-C wall charger or wireless charger to use the new phones.
There is another reason why scrapping accessories cannot lead to such a large cut in greenhouse gases as Apple predicts. The new iPhone 12 will be shipped in smaller packaging since the box will be packed with smaller items. This means that 70 percent more boxes can be sent on a pallet, according to the company. According to the company, more boxes on each pallet will be reduced to fewer delivery trips and less pollution from pipe pipes. But it plays out differently in real life, says Sara Behdad, associate professor of environmental sciences at the University of Florida.
Just because there is more space on a pallet, does not mean that it is filled. “Shipping to stores is based on demand,” says Behdad. How tightly a pallet is filled may depend on how many phones a retailer thinks it will sell and how much storage space is available. So smaller packaging does not necessarily lead to a huge drop in emissions from shipping.
There are so many factors that can lead to a wrench in companies’ sustainability initiatives. “It’s actually very difficult to make a specific claim about how sustainable a particular product can be,” says Behdad. “New features [that claim to make products more sustainable] give us many questions ”
This uncertainty leaves room for skepticism – especially when it comes to step-by-step changes aimed at solving gigantic problems such as climate change or e-waste. “Selling the new iPhone 12 with or without headphones / airpods or a charging pad included distracts us from the bigger question: why Apple and other electronics companies have not taken greater responsibility for reusing and recycling their products, the vast majority of which [are] still available in the United States and globally, ”said Scott Cassel, CEO of the nonprofit Product Stewardship Institute, in an email to The Verge.
The company would have a greater impact if it made it easier to refurbish the products so that they did not become “obsolete and rubbish after a few years,” Cassel wrote. For example, Apple AirPods have a shorter shelf life than traditional headphones because it is so difficult to replace the lithium-ion battery inside.
This special announcement was one of the smaller steps Apple has taken to increase the environmental game. In July, it committed to resetting carbon emissions by 2030 and debuted a new robot called “Dave” to dismantle old iPhones and recycle materials that can be used again.
“Historically, I feel that they have really been at the forefront when it comes to talking about climate change,” says Zino The Verge. The company’s influence on industry and consumer behavior gives it a lot of responsibility. “There’s so much they can still do.”