In its 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report released this week, global consumer electronics provider Apple has declared a goal towards implementing a closed-loop supply chain. This report includes a pledge to end the company’s reliance on mined materials from the earth, and to one day, make its products, including the iPhone, totally from renewable or recycled materials.  Apple Logo

The section titled Finite Resources includes the following statement:

Traditional supply chains are linear. Materials are mined, manufactured as products, and often end up in landfills after use. Then the process starts over and more materials are extracted from the earth for new products. We believe our goal should be a closed-loop supply chain, where products are built using only renewable resources or recycled material.

Apple is also realistic in acknowledging that a closed supply chain is indeed an ambitious goal for a high-tech and consumer electronics manufacturer. The company’s Vice President of Environmental Affairs, Lisa Jackson, told business network CNBC that while Apple does not currently know how the full objective will be achieved, it will require many years of collaboration across multiple internal teams, component suppliers, and specialty recyclers- but work efforts are already under way. She further indicated that the company is embarking on something it rarely does, establishing a goal before all the elements are completely figured out.

Current efforts include the encouraging customers to return end-of-life products through the Apple Renew recycling program. This program is piloting innovative new recycling techniques that include a line of disassembly robots that helps to reclaim materials from used smartphones and other electronics products. The company has further prioritized which materials to tackle first by creating Material Risk Profiles for 44 elements within products. These profiles identify global environmental, social, and supply risk factors spanning the life of each material.

Describing the need for high quality aluminum material free from defects found in mass level recycling programs Apple has begun a pilot proof-of-concept program using reclaimed aluminum from recycled phones to build new devices. The aluminum enclosures recovered from iPhone are melted and reused to create Mac mini computer enclosures.

What forward thinking companies are continuing to demonstrate is that supply chain sustainability efforts are good for business and they are equally good for the supply chain.  Increasingly customers based their buying decisions on a company’s commitment and demonstrated efforts in sustainability. In our current year predictions for industry supply chains, we have re-iterated that there is literally too-much momentum and positive business benefits to motivate senior executives to derail such efforts. Apple has been one of other early adopters of a supply chain sustainability commitment and this latest declaration of a closed-loop supply chain is indeed, an added manifestation of a sustainable business model, one that assures a continuous supply of product value-chain components at a more controlled cost with assured availability. We also like the emphasis on leveraging new technologies to address such needs.

Supply Chain Matters commends Apple for its declaration and commitment toward manifesting a closed-loop supply chain.

Well done and keep up this good work.

Bob Ferrari

© Copyright 2017. The Ferrari Consulting and Research Group and the Supply Chain Matters® blog. All rights reserved.