Earth Day falls on April 22nd every year, and I’ve come to dread it. More often than not, as an environmental reporter, it means sifting through a million announcements from companies shouting about how they’re trying to save the planet.

Alas, most of the stuff I see is just greenwashing. It’s more about selling a product or an image of the company as sustainable and not about doing what’s necessary to take on the environmental crises the world faces — whether that’s climate change, plastic pollution, or e-waste.

When it comes to getting ourselves out of these messes, business as usual just isn’t going to cut it. Even if it’s sprinkled with a little recycling or tree planting, two popular tactics companies turn to that do little for the environment and, in some cases, can cause even more harm.

Here’s The Verge’s guide to the good, the bad, and the greenwashing this Earth Day. We were pleasantly surprised to see that Chipotle plans to give up some of its gas grills for all-electric equipment. But the devil is always in the details. And plenty of companies made splashy announcements that don’t really hold up under scrutiny.

Read on for all the latest updates around Earth Day 2023.


This Earth Day, cut through the corporate climate hypeAn activist from the Extinction Rebellion (XR) climate change group, wearing a mask depicting Jeff Bezos, takes part in a protest outside of Amazon’s headquarters in central London on November 26, 2021. Photo by TOLGA AKMEN/AFP via Getty Images

With Earth Day around the corner, it’s that time of the year again when companies start doling out sustainability pledges like candy. Unfortunately, some of those promises can be misleading. So, The Verge spoke with sustainability experts for tips on how to tell whether or not a climate pledge is legit. They also shared advice on what companies should aspire to if they want to have a meaningful impact on climate change.

It truly is tough to suss out stronger corporate climate pledges from weaker ones. Most companies just aren’t transparent enough on what the climate commitments entail. And, even if there is fine print, it’s definitely not fun to sift through. 

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Electric vehicles still create some air pollution.

Frito-Lay plans to deploy a fleet of more than 700 electric delivery vehicles in the US by the end of the year. Its first pilot Ford eTransit truck “arrived just in time for Earth Day” last year. To be clear, electric vehicles are much better for the climate than their gas-guzzling counterparts.

But EVs still churn up particulate pollution from the wear and tear of tires, brakes, and roadways. So even if big brands electrify their fleets, they’ll still need to think about how their operations affect the environment and public health. They can be more mindful of where they put up new warehouses, for example. Warehouses are magnets for truck traffic and pollution, which can be a nightmare for nearby communities.

Carbon offsets have a terrible track record.

A mountain of research and investigations have shown that in most cases, offsets don’t actually reduce greenhouse gas emissions. And yet companies keep using offsets so they can proclaim themselves “carbon neutral” without necessarily reducing their pollution.

Most offsets are tied to tree-planting schemes, and the idea is that the trees will capture carbon dioxide to cancel out some of a company’s emissions. But these initiatives can cause more harm than good if tree plantations mow over natural landscapes or displace local communities. Even if the right kinds of seedlings are planted in appropriate places, they might not survive long enough to make a dent in climate change.

Maybe to avoid the bad rap these kinds of offsets have gotten, Apple calls them “high-quality, nature-based carbon removal projects” in a recent announcement ahead of Earth Day. Apple’s expanding a fund to try to restore forests and other ecosystems, but these are essentially just carbon offset projects with a fancier label.

Google wants to make “more sustainable hardware.”

It says 30 percent of the materials used in its new products for 2022 were made from recycled materials, for example. The risk with using “sustainability” as a sales pitch is that it doesn’t get at the root of the problem, which is that overconsumption is driving all kinds of environmental crises — from pollution and climate change to piles of e-waste.

These kinds of sustainability campaigns can run into an issue called Jevons paradox, which is when an increase in efficiency just ends up leading to more resource consumption. If you make a a product more “sustainable,” but sell more of those products than you would have otherwise — then you’re still increasing your environmental footprint.

That makes it all the more important to design products to be long-lasting instead of easily expendable. And yet tech companies have dragged their feet (and sometimes outright derailed) efforts to make devices easier to repair, something Google finally did with Pixel last year.

The Verge is keeping an eye on these kinds of sustainability pledges this Earth Day to sort out what’s green and what’s greenwash.

Tree planting is tricky.

Embattled e-scooter startup Bird is partnering with a nonprofit to plant one tree for every ride users take on April 22nd, Earth Day.

Tree planting campaigns are a popular gimmick for brands looking to make themselves look green. But it’s controversial in the conservation world. Done poorly, the trees likely won’t survive. And instead of restoring forests back to health, some of these schemes create tree plantations that can actually do damage to the local environment. The devil’s in the details.

Just hang on to your old controller.

If it still works, keeping it for longer is better for the environment than buying a new one — even if the new controller is made with recycled plastic like this one. Microsoft released this Remix Special Edition Xbox controller ahead of Earth Day 2023, boasting that it’s made “partly” with reclaimed materials like old water jugs and parts from other controllers.

The key word is “partly.” Only one-third of the controller is made with recycled material. That’s because plastic quality deteriorates with each use, so it’s really difficult to make a device using entirely or even mostly recycled plastic. It has to be reinforced with virgin material, which just means more plastic manufacturing and waste in the end.

The Remix Special Edition Xbox controller Image: Microsoft

Apple wants to make its devices carbon neutral.

But Earth Day-adjacent climate pledges for individual products miss the big picture. A company might shrink the carbon footprint of a single device, for instance, but create more pollution overall by making more of those devices.

The most important thing a company can do to tackle climate change is to slash all of its emissions, from its supply chains to its products and operations.

Apple says it has “decreased its comprehensive carbon footprint by over 45 percent since 2015, even as the company’s revenue has grown by over 68 percent during that same period.” That’s the kind of progress to look out for to see if a company is serious about climate change.

Apple commits to using more recycled cobalt in its devicesApple’s iphone dissasembly robot, Daisy. Image: Apple

Apple has new plans to use more recycled metals in its devices. By 2025, the company plans to use 100 percent recycled cobalt in the batteries it designs. By the same date, it says magnets in its devices will contain entirely recycled rare earth elements. And circuit boards Apple designs will also be made with entirely recycled tin soldering and gold plating.

The tech industry has been under scrutiny for years for its hunger for mined materials, which inflicts harm on people and the environment. Apple and other companies have struggled with allegations of human rights violations along their supply chains for cobalt in particular, called “the blood diamond of batteries.”

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The massive recycling warehouse fire is a stark reminder: plastics are a pollution nightmareThe smoking rubble of a plastics recycling facility in Richmond, Indiana. Image: Wayne County Emergency Management Agency

A massive blaze at a plastic recycling facility in Richmond, Indiana, is a terrifying reminder that plastics are a pollution nightmare, one that recycling can’t fix. The fire started Tuesday night at a recycling and resale warehouse, which officials described as six buildings filled from floor to ceiling with plastic waste.

“We’re looking at close to 14 acres worth of plastic that’s piled everywhere,” Richmond Fire Department chief Tim Brown said at a press conference on Wednesday. “The entire complex is either burning or has burned.”

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Chipotle plans to ditch gas grills at 100 new locationsAn electric grill at a Chipotle location in Jacksonville, Florida. Image: Chipotle

Chipotle is switching from gas to electric grills at many of its locations as part of a plan to design more environmentally sustainable restaurants.

In 2024, Chipotle plans to open up at least 100 new locations that “utilize all-electric equipment,” the company announced yesterday. The fast food chain has a goal of slashing its greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030, which is in line with what’s needed globally to meet the goals of the Paris climate agreement.

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Recycled plastic won’t solve tech’s waste problemA man collects garbage, including plastic waste, at the beach of Costa del Este, in Panama City, on April 19, 2021.  Photo by LUIS ACOSTA/AFP via Getty Images

Buying a gadget made with recycled plastic instead of brand-new materials might sound like an environmentally friendly investment, but it does very little to cut down on the heaps of plastic pollution and electronic waste that are trashing the environment and ending up everywhere — including in our own bodies. 

Think of plastic pollution like an overflowing tub in your bathroom, says Josh Lepawsky, a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland who maps the international movement of electronic waste. “If you walked into that, probably the first thing you would do would be to turn off the tap — not grab a bucket and a mop, if you think of the bucket and the mop as recycling,” Lepawsky says. Turning off the tap equates to staunching the production of plastic goods. Trying to clean up a growing mess won’t address the root of the problem. “It doesn’t mean, don’t use a bucket and a mop. But that’s not turning off the tap.”

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