With its green commitments, Apple aims to go where consumers are

While many in the media focus on speed, feeds, and bezel size, consumers are becoming more interested in the environmental consequences of the products they use.

Apple, iPhone, Smartphone, GfK, consumer habits, environment, climate

Many continue to ignore the green slide Apple shows during each of its product presentations — but the company's environmental commitments are critical drivers for Apple’s future business.

Think global, act local

That’s because while many in the tech industry tend to focus on hardware specs, consumers are focusing more on the environmental consequences of the products they buy.

Consumers are smart enough to tell the difference between skin deep green commitments and genuine attempts to change. It was only a decade ago when famed Apple designer Sir Jony Ive reflected on this, calling consumers “incredibly discerning.”

“We sense where there has been great care in the design, and where there is cynicism and greed,” he said at the time.

We can see you

Consumers remain just as aware of cynicism — and are increasingly aware of climate change. Indeed, environmental responsibility is emerging as a key consumer need.

Fresh consumer research from GfK declares that climate change continues to be a fast-growing, long-term personal value among consumers. This is seen across the board, from young to old, across 22 nations. One in five people over 60, for example, will now research the environmental practices of companies they consider purchasing from, the research said.

What else do they want? Beyond data on the carbon footprint companies create, buyers also want durable, energy efficient products, particularly in tech. They want plastic-free packaging, sustainability, and efficiency in energy consumption; in the EU, where appliances must carry energy consumption labels, sales of the most energy efficient devices have doubled since 2021.

Consumers also look for “overall saving in the lifetime cost of their devices, as well as being greener in their product choices,” said Norbert Herzog, GfK expert for Consumer Tech and Durables in a statement.

None of this seems a secret to Cupertino.

Apple saw this coming

Apple has emphasized corporate social and environmental responsibility (with the dishonorable exception of union rights) for years — just look at the headlines.

Apple drew heavy criticism from Greenpeace in 2007 for using hazardous chemicals in iPhones by. Today, with all those substances and more removed from its devices, the same organization has praised Apple for setting “a new bar” in terms of corporate responsibility.

Apple’s commitments to help its suppliers transition to carbon neutral manufacturing answer the remaining criticisms Greenpeace made in its most recent tech industry report. “With partners around the world, we’re adding even more renewable energy to power our global supply chain and investing in next-generation green technologies. The scale of this challenge is immense — but so is our determination to meet it,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.

It’s not just Apple and Greenpeace who care about these things. Apple leads the industry in ticking the sustainability boxes discerning consumers are most concerned about. As consumer habits change, Apple isn’t just making nice to keep consumers happy, it’s also ahead of the pack with a smart business strategy, argues GfK.

Good business in the post-growth economy

The global smartphone market is saturated, experiencing declining growth rates, and sustainability is a sweet spot for consumers. Yet, a look at market data shows that even in this saturated market, Apple’s share continues to increase, along with its average selling prices.

Apple’s long-term aim is to build a circular manufacturing process, in which all materials used are environmentally friendly or recycled. That’s going to take time and money, of course, but each time it achieves another climate goal it becomes both a better corporate citizen and a better consumer choice.

This progress isn’t random. As Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environment, policy, and social initiatives, has said, each step is carefully planned: “I like to remind people we couldn’t just set a goal, we had to come up with a roadmap, just like we have a roadmap for every product that Apple eventually releases,” she said.

“There’s a roadmap for years to get to that product,” she said “We are in year three of a 10-year goal.”

What’s interesting about the remaining seven years in that journey is the rapidly growing number of consumers concerned about climate change. What might this mean in terms of future purchasing habits?

GfK has an answer. It believes 50% of the world’s population will be “eco-active” within the next 7 years.

The $700B opportunity

This group of highly aware and environmentally active consumers will have big economic clout, spending an estimated $700 billion each year on consumer technology and durables.

“The question is not ‘if,' but ‘when,' sustainability will become one of the main criteria for consumer purchasing decisions,” says GfK. They will demand sustainability, durability, and low energy consumption. And they remain, as Ive said a decade ago, quite capable of sensing which companies are serious about their environmental commitments. Genuine firms may have a better chance to thrive in our rapidly emerging post-growth economy.

There is one more thing. Apple also has some opportunity in refurbished devices; 27% of consumers already purchase these, and GfK expects to see double-digit revenue growth rates in second user smartphones for the next few years. Those climate aware, long-lasting iPhones account for 49% of those sales, CCS Insights said earlier this year.

Perhaps it’s time everyone took those green slides a little more seriously — and perhaps thought a little more deeply about what it means when companies don’t share such information.

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Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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