Apple yesterday announced a really impressive achievement: its entire global operations are now 100% powered by renewable energy. That encompasses everything from retail stores and local offices through data centers to its Apple Park campus.

Unlike many companies, Apple doesn’t cheat by buying offsets.

“You could go out and buy carbon credits and offsets–nope,” says Jackson firmly. “You could go out and wait for other people to do projects and say ‘Can I have some of that please? How much will you charge me for some of your clean energy?’ No.”

Last time it updated us, the figure was 96%. When you don’t cheat, getting there with that last few percent is a far bigger achievement than it might sound, and I think Apple deserves every credit for this …

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But there’s one area where I think Apple could do better where the environment is concerned, and that’s product packaging.

I know the company has done a lot already. It has significantly reduced the amount of plastics, for example. The iPhone accessory tray that was once plastic is now made from a mix of bamboo fiber (sustainably harvested, of course) and bagasse, which is a by-product of sugar cane manufacturing that would otherwise go to waste.

Apple has also worked hard to use less virgin paper and more of the recycled variety.

We’re […] using recycled paper whenever we can. In fact, in fiscal year 2016, more than 60 per cent of the paper used in our packaging was made of recycled wood fibre.

Of the remaining 40%, Apple says that almost all of it is ‘responsibly sourced.’

But the most important of the three elements of the environmental mantra – reduce, reuse, recycle – is reduce. Less packaging is always better than reused or recycled packaging. Better not to cut down a tree in the first place than to use the wood from it two or three times over.

Again, it’s not like Apple is blind to this. It has reduced some of its packaging quite dramatically over time. The company points to the 21.5-inch iMac as an example, noting that it uses 53% less packaging by volume, and 35% less by weight, than the original 15-inch iMac.

But I think Apple packaging is still needlessly extravagant.

Premium feel versus environmental responsibility

There is, of course, a dilemma here. Apple sells premium products, and wants to deliver a premium feel at every stage of the process. Apple stores are beautifully designed (even if the premium feel is usually completely squashed by the crazy over-crowding). And let’s be honest, the packaging is part of that premium feeling.

Apple’s packaging is beautiful, and so perfectly designed that there’s a real feeling of care to it. Unwrapping a shiny new Apple product has a feeling of luxury, of the product being important enough to be pampered by all the layers of protection.

I’m not immune to that feeling. I love the experience of unboxing a new Apple product. I appreciate the thought that goes into it. But is less than a minute of pleasure really worth all the waste involved?

Take the original Apple Watch, for example. Here’s the packaging:

I mean, I get it. It’s gorgeous. It contributes to a sense of the product being special and valuable. There’s a feel-good aspect to it that can’t be denied.

But is it really justifiable in a company that has such a strong stated commitment to the environment? When that unboxing experience is over in 60 seconds or so and we’re left with a pile of packaging that dwarfs the product it enclosed? I mean, the most recent Apple product I unboxed was my HomePod, and I can scarcely remember now what the packaging was like. It’s such a transient experience.

Has the time come when Apple’s customer base is sophisticated enough to appreciate that, today, less is more? That environmentally-friendly packaging – which includes the minimum amount of packaging needed to properly protect the product – is actually a bigger sign of a premium brand than all those endless layers?

Look at the company’s refurb and replacement products, for example. The packaging used for those is 100% up to the job of protecting the product, otherwise Apple wouldn’t use it. But it’s far more restrained in its use of materials.

That’s the standard I’d like to see Apple adopt for all its products.

That doesn’t mean Apple can’t continue to create beautiful-looking packaging. Just use less of it. Provide minimalist packaging to go with the minimalist product designs. After all, if there’s any company in the world that knows how to make something both simple and gorgeous, it’s Apple.

What are your views? Would you like to see Apple rise to the challenge? Or do you think that the existing packaging is so fundamental to the Apple experience that it’s worth the use of materials? As always, please take our poll and share your thoughts in the comments.


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