Apple's latest model includes a universal charging point, but the environmental cost of upgrading your mobile is not to be ignored.
Apple is set to launch its latest iPhone today (12 September) during an online showcase at 7pm CEST.
Millions of new iPhone 15s will then be wending their way to excited customers, with the expected release date on 22 September.
Its new and improved features include a USB-C port on the bottom, after the European Union made the universal charging port mandatory to reduce electronic waste.
But trading in your old smartphone for the newest model is the worst thing you could do. According to Apple’s own metrics,79 per cent of the phone’s lifecycle carbon emissions are released during production.
Resisting the urge to own the latest iPhone won’t reverse emissions for the products hitting the shelves next week, but it will help to limit how many phones are made in the future.
With around 211 million smartphones sold in the EU annually, each lasting on average three years before they are replaced, battling the forces of ‘planned obsolescence’ is crucial.
Apple was previously fined €10 million by Italy’s antitrust watchdog after it found the company's software updates “caused serious dysfunctions” and sapped more energy without warning. This pushed people towards buying new phones, though Apple denied that was its intention.
Is Apple getting more sustainable?
A large chunk of the CO2 emissions released in creating a new smartphone comes from mining the rare materials inside them. According to one report, “buying a new phone takes as much energy as recharging and operating a smartphone for an entire decade.”
But Apple, the world’s largest tech company, has been trying to clean up its act on this and other environmental fronts.
It claims to use 100 per cent recycled rare earth elements in all iPhone 14 magnets, which represent almost all of the total rare earth elements in the device.
In 2019 Apple, along with Google, Dell, Microsoft, and Tesla, was named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed on behalf of families from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), whose children were injured and killed while mining cobalt.
The companies deny the use of child labour, arguing they do not own cobalt mines, nor can identify the exact source of the materials they use. And a US district court judge dismissed the legal case against them in 2021.
But fresh questions were raised by NGO Global Witness last year, with an investigation suggesting that Apple, Nokia and Samsung are relying on a supply chain due diligence scheme that is used to launder conflict minerals from the DRC.
Apple maintains it is “committed to setting the highest standards of responsible sourcing of materials used in our products,” in its latest environmental progress report.
In 2020 it announced plans to become entirely carbon neutral by 2030, encompassing everything from its manufacturing supply chain to product life cycle.
Sustainable alternatives to an iPhone
Given the ubiquity of smartphones and their assorted Apps in our lives, it’s hard to know what the alternatives are to constant upgrading.
One phone comes head and shoulders above the others by almost all important measures, however.
Fairphone, launched by a Dutch social enterprise 10 years ago, is leading the way on supply chain transparency, with the company mapping out which manufacturers, smelters and refineries have shaped its aptly named devices.
The Fairphone tops the ethical rankings of the UK’s leading alternative consumer organisation, the Ethical Consumer, which also praises the company for including a screwdriver tool, enabling consumers to replace any broken parts. A far cry from Apple’s sealed-off technology.
Buying second-hand is of course preferable too, and recycling your phone when you really are finished with it is an important step in the process.
Going back to basics with a ‘feature phone’ could be an option as well, especially if you’re getting all your smart needs from a laptop or computer, and so can avoid doubling up on the energy usage.