In Quick Questions, we ask women leaders about their advice, from the best mentorship to what they’re still doing. Here, Connie Yang, the product designer leading Apple’s sustainability goals, talks about plastic-free packaging.
In 2015, Apple took a big step toward a more sustainable future by announcing big goals plastic free packaging within a decade and to be fully Carbon-neutral by 2030, At the helm of this environmental initiative is Connie Yang, director of product design at the company’s Hardware Engineering.
Since joining the company in 2014, Yang has been a key part of Apple’s plastic-elimination effort, which has already reduced plastic in product packaging by 75%. This is important because, as Yang tells Bustle, plastic recycling is definitely not what it promises to beSo the best way to proceed is to avoid it altogether.
“Until I got this job, I assumed that when I put something in my recycling bin, it got recycled,” says Yang, who earned both a Bachelor of Science in mechanical engineering and physics from MIT and a Ph.D. in Product Design from Loughborough University. “For so many complicated reasons, it’s just not true. The reason we need to get rid of plastic is because, [based on our research]We’ve concluded that the best thing we can make our packaging out of is materials made from fibers, as the highest percentage of those materials are sustainably recycled around the world.
Prior to joining Apple, Yang, who is 41, co-founded NEMO Instruments, Inc. Channeled his passion for crafting sustainable outdoor gear for. Her childhood in Missouri was filled with camping trips and fishing excursions, she says, and nowadays, when she’s not leading climate change action, Yang can be found in San Francisco surfing and exploring the outdoors.
“Know that you are not alone: There are many other people who really feel deep down that this is the right thing to do. We have one Earth. What are we waiting for?”
You have a background in stability, specifically in outdoor equipment. What attracted you to Apple?
Prior to this role, I was in a startup and felt that desire to be a part of something bigger but it was really hard to know [major climate action] Lonely. It was so easy to get into Apple [its] Value. Apple asks really bold questions. They take risks. They tackle big problems, and have a long-term commitment to the environment.
When people aim for “green” or sustainable jobs, they may assume they’ll need to work for smaller companies, not somewhere like Apple.
I challenge the notion that you have to be at a nonprofit. Meaningful work can happen anywhere. it comes down [whether] Your values are reflected in the company. This kind of value-driven work requires a lot of initiative. It is not that the company was born out of the womb like this. Challenging the norms requires people within the company, people need to talk, learn, and then say, “Let’s do this differently.” and getting that buy-in [from the company] That’s so important.
What is inspiring you right now in the world of sustainability?
There are a lot of exciting things going on in the world of packaging. In the Bay Area, where I live, I have a store where you can refill your laundry detergent, soaps, and shampoos. It is changing the whole paradigm.
Apple aims to eliminate plastic from all packaging by 2025, and you’ve already made significant progress in that direction. What would dream packaging look like for you?
In Apple, a [our big focuses] There is user experience in opening the products. The product isn’t just thrown out there mindlessly. The packaging of my dreams will help you figure out what to do with it after you’re done with the unboxing – for example, packaging that makes it clear that it’s recyclable, or that it’s easy to break. We often think about the unboxing experience and how wonderful it is, but not the labor of disposing of the box afterwards.
It matters a lot, like how the worst part of Christmas morning is taking out the trash. I know you are using fiber replacement material in place of plastic. Can you explain what that is, and how consumers can tell the difference between Apple’s fiber replacement and plastic?
When we say “fiber,” we mean a renewable resource that is responsibly sourced, usually made from trees, bamboo, or agricultural produce. like bagasse, which is a sugarcane. For example, on the iPhone 14, there is no longer shrink-wrap or plastic wrap on the top of the box. There are pull tabs at the back for better accessibility. You just have to pull the tab to open it. It’s a different, easier unboxing experience, and at the end of the day, you’re not left with a little pile of plastic.
Another example is the small screen film wrap that people like to peel off the surface of their iPhones. It used to be made of plastic, but now we have a paper-based alternative that’s still really fun to peel, and you can just put it in the recycling bin.
It seems like a win-win. What are the obstacles standing in your way, or in Apple’s way, of reaching these big sustainability goals?
The biggest challenge is that there is no big blueprint for doing this. We are inventing new materials. We’re building new technologies, and that’s how we can reach the last 4%, because we’re 96% plastic-free. It’s a big challenge, but one that’s great fun and really impressive.
How can others follow in those footsteps?
At the company level, I think making public commitments is a tremendous task. It shows that you care and that you are willing to work hard. I always tell the people I work with that it takes hard work to do the right thing. Should this be a surprise to us? No, it shouldn’t.
companies can also really look at replacing plastic one by one with fiber, [since] There are places where you can get rid of packaging altogether. We really have to question, why do we have this? Is it a value?
And for both companies and people, know that you’re not alone: There are so many other people who really feel deep down that this is the right thing to do. We have one earth. What are we waiting for?
Based on words of wisdom, what is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Know what you can control versus what you can’t. We spend a lot of time worrying about things we have no control over, and this can make us feel powerless. But if you focus on the things that you can control and influence, you can actually take steps forward.
Have you been given bad advice?
I always think of the advice as, “You just need to put your head down and work hard, and good things will happen.” I want to call BS on that. Yes, put your head down to work, but also advocate for yourself. Do self-work to understand what you want, communicate what you want, meet other leaders, create your own destiny. People can’t read your mind to know what you want.
Speaking of all that hard work and offbeat moves, I’m curious, especially as someone who is taking on such a huge challenge, how do you keep from burnout?
Know what rejuvenates you and keep it sacred in your life. Sometimes adding activities that bring you joy can feel like subtracting, even though it’s adding. It gives you more peace or stability. I love to surf, I love spending time in nature. I try to do this as often as possible.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.