Apple’s Sustainability Video: A Storytelling Triumph with Gaps in Green Commitment

Claire Brady
Written by Claire Brady

Tags: communications environment leadership PR sustainability

Apple’s latest sustainability video, featuring CEO Tim Cook and actress Octavia Spencer, has sparked a heated debate among viewers. Some praise it as a “storytelling gem,” while others find it “cringey.”

As a sustainability expert, I appreciate the innovative storytelling approach used in the video, making it engaging and digestible. I’ve spent far too long in my career trying to get people interested in sustainability and the challenges we face globally.  So, I’m always pleased to see innovative approaches that leverage storytelling for the greater good.

However, I’m concerned about the notable gaps in the topics covered, such as supply chain ethics, human rights, planned obsolescence, repair, recycling, and the circular economy. Additionally, the use of the term “carbon neutral” raised major concerns.

Here, I explore the strengths and weaknesses of Apple’s sustainability video, highlighting both its merits and shortcomings.


Engaging and Relatable Storytelling:

Using video format to present its sustainability report is an interesting move by Apple. Traditional sustainability reports are often dry and text-heavy, making them inaccessible to many. The video’s narrative, featuring a dialogue between Apple and Mother Nature, is an interesting take. It brings into focus the fundamental reality that we are so dependent on the earth for all the resources we need to live our lives. It also humanises the company’s sustainability efforts and captures the audience’s attention effectively.

Clear Communication:

The video breaks down complex topics into easily digestible segments. When Mother Nature questions Apple about its sustainability progress, viewers are given bite size, digestible facts. It reminded me of the rap version of Heineken’s sustainability report ‘Let’s Get Frank’ from 2015. The aim of both was to find a radically different way to present the company’s achievements and future goals to engage a wide audience. It also acts as a way for companies to demonstrate their transparency, which drives trust and accountability.

Visual Communication:

The video also leverages the power of visuals to convey complex messages. Let’s be honest, our attention spans seem to be waning. So rather than relying on written descriptions and reams of data, the video showcases Apple’s commitment to sustainability with a much more engaging and memorable storytelling approach. And cleverly, the response of Mother Nature and her exec assistant tell us whether we should be impressed by what Apple has achieved. It saves us from having to do the critical thinking – the characters and the storytelling do it for us. A very clever device from a pure storytelling perspective.

Emotional Connection:

We all know the power of music, dialogue and natural sounds in creating an emotional response. Apple uses these effectively in the video to help establish an emotional connection with the audience. The fact that the video has been described as ‘cringe’ by some suggests this element didn’t quite hit the mark for everyone. But as a highly emotional person who can be brought to tears by a cleverly worded advert, I couldn’t help getting caught up when I first watched it.

Reinforcing Brand Identity:

Apple’s video maintains the brand’s signature charm and personality. The playful banter reminds viewers that the company is committed to sustainability without losing its unique identity.

There’s certainly a lot to commend in the video. And crucially, it has got people talking. It was even covered by the Daily Mail, which seldom reports on a company’s sustainability report. From that perspective, there’s a lot other brands could learn from Apple’s sustainability video if they want to attract higher engagement with their own sustainability achievements.

Having said that, I have some serious concerns about the video. And given the fact that it has captured the attention of the media so widely, it’s important not to overlook these concerns.


Gaps in Sustainability Coverage:

While the video highlights some of Apple’s sustainability achievements, it conspicuously omits critical areas. I would’ve liked to hear more detail about what Apple is doing to shift to recycled cobalt and the actions it’s taking to improve human rights within its supply chains. Currently, the business model is tied to the constant development and marketing of new products. There was no discussion of key issues such as planned obsolescence, challenges with repairing products or information about their recyclability. There’s so much that could and should have been said about these issues. These omissions leave significant gaps in Apple’s sustainability narrative – ones that, for a sustainability professional, take away from all the ‘good’ things they have done.

Carbon Neutral Ambiguity:

The video introduces the concept of “carbon-neutral” products, but it fails to provide a clear definition of this. It’s mentioned in relation to Apple’s office, and to the new product it introduces. A claim is also made about all products becoming carbon neutral by 2030. But as there was no proper explanation about what Apple means by carbon neutrality – in fact, it’s made into a joke with Mother Nature (“you’re seriously explaining carbon neutrality to Mother Nature?”) – it creates ambiguity about what criteria Apple is using for achieving it. Is it aligned with the Science Based Targets Initiative? Is Apple aiming for a 90-95% reduction in carbon emissions, and only offsetting the remainder? When talking about Apple’s carbon neutral office, is the company accounting for the embodied carbon of the materials that were used to build it? This lack of transparency is seriously problematic.

As a sustainability professional, I was left with so many questions that my head was in my hands.

Apple missed a crucial opportunity to tell a more nuanced and transparent story about what it really means to be ‘carbon neutral’ as a business, and how much positive impact the company has had as a result. Apple had a captive audience, so perhaps instead of joking with them, Mother Nature could have challenged Apple to explain what it means and help raise the carbon literacy levels of the viewers.

Missed Opportunity for Radical Transparency:

With a captive audience, this video version of Apple’s sustainability report could also have embraced radical transparency by delving deeper into the some of the less glamorous aspects of sustainability, such as supply chain ethics and circular economy initiatives. This would have provided a more comprehensive view of the company’s efforts and really helped position it as a leader, rather than as mere box tickers with a good ad agency on board.


Apple’s sustainability video is undoubtedly a creative and engaging way to present its sustainability report. It successfully captivates the audience and humanises the company’s sustainability initiatives. However, the video falls short in addressing critical sustainability issues, leaving gaps in its narrative. The term “carbon neutral” is used ambiguously, raising concerns about transparency. While the storytelling approach is commendable, it ultimately feels like a missed opportunity for Apple to take its commitment to sustainability to the next level.

To be a true leader in sustainability, Apple must address these gaps and strive for greater transparency in its reporting in general, as well as use the power of its brand to raise awareness of the complex challenges we face in bringing about a more sustainable global economy.

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