"Amazonia" in downtown Seattle

When it comes to sustainability, it’s hard to tell who is going green and who is just green washing.

It’s easy for companies to talk a big game about sustainability. Some have even taken some major strides to change how their businesses operate. But just how green are these companies actually going?

How green is this Apple?

Apple HQ

Apple is doing a lot when it comes to its own corporate sustainability.

All of Apple’s data centres and stores across 44 countries are powered entirely by renewable energy, a pretty massive feat given just how much energy that requires.

It is good to see a sustainable operation, but Apple’s real issue goes beyond its offices.

With new models constantly hitting the market and strong opposition to the “right to repair,” Apple products have become some of the most commonly identified products in waste bins.

Apple recently accepted its role in mounting e-waste and is making a big push towards resource recovery at the Materials Recovery Lab in Texas, an investment Apple hopes can eventually eliminate rare material mining. 

Their solution so far: Daisy and Dave, the disassembly robots. Daisy is able to quickly break down and sort materials in Apple devices while Dave specialises in extracting rare resources from electronics.

However, research is slow going with only two robots on the job. If Apple really wanted to curb this issue right now, it could easily make upgradable devices that would extend end of life expectancy and cut down on e-waste.

Here’s hoping that profit margin doesn’t cost the planet.

Google: funding both sides of the climate debate

Google headquarters, Dublin

Google has made some major moves when it comes to putting out sustainable internet services.

For the past 12 years, Google has been operating at carbon neutral through a combination of offset projects and power purchase agreements (PPAs) as the world’s largest purchaser of renewable energy, totaling 3.75 GW.

The company has also been working on services to make customers more environmentally friendly, with a reported 98 per cent emissions decrease in email services and fully carbon neutral Cloud products.

Google has also been one of the biggest investors in ESG with parent company Alphabet Inc issuing $5.75 billion in sustainability bonds, the largest of its kind.

Despite publicly encouraging climate action, Google has continued financially fueling the flames with some less than green investments.

Google was caught making substantial contributions to notorious climate denialists in 2019, including conservative policy group Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), whose director, Myron Ebell, was a key player in the Trump administration’s withdrawal from the Paris Agreement.

Google employees were outraged by this reveal and over 2000 workers signed a public letter calling on the company to establish decisive climate goals and cease all funding toward fossil fuels and climate denialism.

Google defended its investments, claiming that just because it worked with denialist think tanks did not mean it supported the full agenda. Just the bits where Republicans can defend Google from internet regulations and antitrust laws.

Amazon: talking loud and silencing others

Actions speak louder than words, but Amazon is all talk when it comes to sustainability.

In 2019, Amazon co founded The Climate Pledge to be net zero by 2040, aiming for 100 per cent renewable power by 2025 (it is at 42 per cent now) and making half of its deliveries carbon neutral by 2030.

It also ordered 100,000 electric vehicles for delivery, the largest order of its kind, which are expected to hit the streets in 2022.

Amazon is happy to toot its own horn about its Climate Pledge, even slap the title on its new Seattle sports arena, but the online retail giant is not known for following through on its big gestures.

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is infamously misleading when it comes to donating to charitable causes, touting big sums while only providing a fraction.

In February, Bezos announced via Instagram $10 billion in grants to kickstart the Bezos Earth Fund, but no concrete details have emerged since the announcement despite his claims to begin fund distribution over the summer. 

Not only is Amazon not backing up their business; it is actively trying to silence anyone who points out the company’s hypocrisy.

After employees threatened to join the 2019 climate strikes, Amazon updated its external communications policy, prohibiting employees from discussing the company’s business without corporate approval in a clear attempt to stop protestors

At least three employees faced termination threats for publicly speaking out on environmental issues, but protestors continue to stick to their guns and demand Amazon put its money where its mouth is.

Microsoft: can a company aim too high?

Where most companies settle for the bare minimum, Microsoft is aiming above and beyond with its sustainable goals.

Microsoft recently announced an initiative to go zero waste by 2030, the third stage of its environmental plan to address waste, carbon, water and ecosystem.

The company is using its software skills to build a “Planetary Computer,” a system that will aggregate environmental data from around the world to better collect information on ecosystems and help companies make better environmental decisions.

Where Microsoft is really shining is its willingness to push the goalposts with its carbon emissions.

While most companies plan to go carbon neutral, Microsoft is shooting for the even more ambitious goal of carbon negative by 2030 by halving its emissions and investing in carbon reductions technology.

It is a tricky spot to put all the chips in on technology that doesn’t fully exist yet, especially when there are less risky investment options that could do real good. 

However, if this works, Microsoft’s billion dollar investment in accelerating carbon removal could significantly scale up a new front in the battle against climate change.

Here’s hoping more companies follow in Microsoft’s footsteps for a negative footprint.

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