Apple’s Latest Greenwashing Stunt

Why Apple’s eco-friendly claims for not shipping adapters and earphones with the iPhone 12 is shrewd and misleading.

Lance Ng
Lance Ng
Oct 17, 2020 · 4 min read
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Image credit: velo_city on Flickr

1986, when environmentalist Jay Westerveld was still in college, he coined the term “greenwashing” to describe “the process of conveying a false impression or providing misleading information about how a company’s products are more environmentally sound”.

Apple’s latest statement on why it is shipping the new iPhone 12 without power adapters and earphones fits this exact definition. It sounded so convincing that some environmentalists were even praising the move.

But a closer examination of the facts reveals the truth — Apple is just simply trying to make more money from iPhone buyers by doing this.

How so?

Paying more for less

Without free adapters and earphones in the iPhone 12 packaging, Apple will be saving a lot on shipping costs.

“…Apple says it will be able to fit 70% more iPhones onto a shipping pallet.”

— “Sustainability experts welcome Apple’s move to scrap iPhone accessories”, CNBC

Aww… so shipping costs could go down by 70%, on top of the savings from adapters and earphones.

And for that do buyers get a discount?


The new iPhone 12 base model costs US$100 more than the previous iPhone 11. (Although there is a new 5.4 inch ‘mini’ version that costs the same as the old model’s starting price.)

So you are paying the same amount or more — depending on the model you choose — to get less.

This shrewd use of sustainability as a cover for cost cutting and earning more doesn’t stop there…

Paying more to charge your phone

The iPhone 12 will come with just the charging cable. And you would think that that’s ok, since most folks have old power adapters from owning previous iPhones — or other smartphones and appliances.

After all, Apple said that’s the exact reason why it decided not to give adapters with the new model.

“There are also over 2 billion Apple power adapters out there in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third-party adapters. We’re removing these items from the iPhone box, which reduces carbon emissions and avoids the mining and use of precious materials.”

— Lisa Jackson, Apple VP of environment, policy and social initiatives

The old adapters she’s talking about probably came from the 2.2 billion iPhones that have been sold worldwide since it was created.

At first glance this sounds pretty logical. How exemplary of Apple and how wonderful for Mother Nature.

But here’s the ugly, profit-driven truth.

First of all, many of us would have traded in or sold away our old phones, and usually the adapter has to go with it.

Secondly… even if you did hang on to your old phones and adapters… the new iPhone 12 cable isn’t even compatible with the old adapters anyway!

Yes! That new free cable will only work with the adapters that come with newer iPads and Macs.

Should you choose to charge your new iPhone 12 with your old cable and adapters, you are looking at a slower charging time.

It’s either that or fork out another US$19 for a new Apple 20W USB-C adapter. Did I also mention that Apple rolled out a new US$39 MagSafe wireless charger together with the iPhone 12?

So folks, instead of encouraging you to reuse your old power adapters, this latest move by Apple is actually aimed at encouraging you to buy a new one!

Not quite the same ‘green’

So far we’ve only been talking about the power adapter. What about leaving out free wired earphones. Isn’t that good for the environment?

No doubt it can be. Many iPhone buyers do not even use the free earphones that comes in the box anymore. And Apple knows this.

“Customers already have over 700 million Lightning headphones, and many customers have moved to a wireless experience,” Apple VP Lisa Jackson said.

But again, a public statement like this is classic greenwashing.

Are you counting headphones shipped with iPhones all the way back to 2016, when the Lightning connector for its earphones were first introduced?

Sure, some buyers will reuse earphones that are less than 3–4 years old. But modern earphones aren’t exactly durable. After a few years — especially wireless ones with inbuilt rechargeable batteries that have degraded — consumers will want to replace it.

By not giving you free ones like before, the odds of you buying a new set along with your new iPhone 12 is now much higher.

So why make a commercial decision sound like it was entirely an environmental one?

No matter how you look at it, it’s quite clear that this latest move by Apple is motivated by the color ‘green’— just not the kind they are publicly claiming.

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Image credit: Hana Chramostova on

It’s okay to want to make more money Apple. You are a corporation. That’s what you are supposed to do.

But let’s just call a spade a spade shall we?

The Startup

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Lance Ng

Written by

Lance Ng

I write about business, technology and society... Investor | Entrepreneur | Thinker 🔗

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

Lance Ng

Written by

Lance Ng

I write about business, technology and society... Investor | Entrepreneur | Thinker 🔗

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +756K people. Follow to join our community.

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