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This may read like an Apple hit piece to some people, but it is far from that. I have respect for Apple and the strides they have made toward their ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) goals. I have owned a variety of Apple devices over the past two decades, and I own shares of their stock.
This also may read like an anti-environmentalism post, which it is also not. Climate change is real. Sustainability and the environment are very important to me, and while I am far from having a zero carbon footprint, I like to think I am at least intentional about the decisions I make to try and minimize unnecessary impact on the planet.
At Apple’s September 12th Event, they spent a full twelve minutes of the hour and twenty-two-minute presentation talking about their climate goals and how they’re on track to meet them, starting with drastic changes to their Apple Watch to become carbon neutral. In comparison, they talked for nineteen minutes about the new iPhone 15 base model. So clearly, this was something important to them if they spent 15% of the event on it.
Besides changes to the Apple Watch, the other big announcement was the immediate transition away from leather accessories across the board. No more official, Apple-branded leather phone cases, watch bands, etc. Their core argument is that the production of leather accessories “at Apple’s scale” comes with a large carbon footprint, and this is true. But it omits the point that the production of any accessories “at Apple’s scale” comes with a large carbon footprint. Even their touted carbon-neutral Apple Watches utilize carbon credits. Carbon credits have been shown time and time again to be, in the best case, less impactful than they’re credited for, and in the worst cases outright scams.
I am all for swapping comparable, environmentally friendlier products. I use Blueland cleaning products around my house, use reusable Swedish dishcloths instead of paper towels, and buy bamboo Reel toilet paper. These products all work and cost comparably the same as the products I was using before. Apple’s replacement material does not. It has been getting some of the worst reviews for an Apple product I’ve ever seen (currently 2.2 stars on Amazon and 1 star on Target), and they sell a $700 set of aluminum wheels for your Mac Pro. To announce it in the same breath as announcing your discontinuing leather accessories invites people to view Fine Woven as faux leather, regardless of whether that was their intention or not. In photos of 48 hours of use, it is already showing stains and scratches, making it not even comparable to cheap silicone rubber cases you can buy off of Amazon for $10.
Leather is an incredible material that when used properly and cared for can last generations. I’m not naïve enough to believe that leather iPhone cases are going to be passed down as familial heirlooms, but extending their use beyond a single phone generation would be much more impactful on their carbon footprint. The saying is “reduce, reuse, recycle” after all. Reducing the number of cases they produce by allowing them to be reused should be the priority.
One of the “new features” that they spent ample time on in the presentation was the new softer contoured edges on the iPhone 15 Pro. Did these really need to be redesigned? 99.9% of people will be covering their new iPhone 15 Pro in a case, immediately putting the new profile out of view (the other .1% are psychopaths or wealthy in ways I can only aspire to). This also immediately breaks compatibility with any previous generation of iPhone case.
I understand that fitting all of the components of an iPhone into something that fits in the palm of your hand is as much an art as it is a science, and there very well may be times when a drastic change in design is needed to accommodate their newest true innovations, but until then, can we keep things as they are?
I think Apple should be applauded for what they have accomplished, and I am excited to see more of their resources focused on sustainability, but at the end of the day, their bottom line literally revolves around people getting rid of perfectly functional consumer goods in favor of marginally better ones. They have managed to keep the Watch band connection the same for nine generations. A leather watchband can easily last nine product generations. A Fine Woven one, based on what we’ve seen so far, would not.