Apple finds a way to make people care about the planet

By Chris Mooney

For 10 days, Apple is turning over the App Store to saving the environment. Photo / Getty Images
For 10 days, Apple is turning over the App Store to saving the environment. Photo / Getty Images

Apple's recent efforts to trumpet its green initiatives have largely been about supply chain and manufacturing, but on Thursday the company unveiled a splashy new initiative aimed at its millions of customers.

The company is rolling out "Apps for Earth," in which the App Store will, for 10 days, feature 27 popular apps -- including Angry Birds 2, Jurassic World: The Game, and SimCity BuildIt -- that have added new environmental content for Earth Day.

Money spent buying one of these 27 apps, or making purchases within them, will then support the World Wildlife Fund, to help advance its climate and environmental initiatives. And given the size of the App store itself -- which has many million users across 155 countries -- and the huge reach of some of the apps (Angry Birds II has been downloaded 85 million times, for instance), it just might just be one of the corporate world's farthest-reaching green initiatives.

Apple, the world's largest company by market capitalization, has been unveiling a series of high-profile green initiatives. In October, for instance, the company announced new solar energy plans in China.

In March at the company's latest special event, Lisa Jackson, former EPA director and now Apple's vice president for environment, policy, and social initiatives, announced 93 per cent of the company's global facilities are powered by renewable energy.

But at a time when it's hard to make people pay attention to the environment, Apple is in effect creating a gigantic new megaphone.

In an interview with the Post, Apple's Jackson said the company is serious about extending its green initiatives in new directions.

"This is yet another example of our work to help the planet, and it addresses something we hear a lot of from our customers," said Jackson. "They love the work Apple is doing as a company, but they want to be engaged in this mission of leaving the planet better than we found it."

"This is really our first big step into engaging customers in our mission," Jackson continued. And it has already drawn major attention:

"Elevating these issues on a global scale through an unprecedented platform like this is huge," added Carter Roberts, President and CEO of the World Wildlife Fund. WWF's own app will be one of the 27 featured, and the conservation group will receive the donations that result from Apps for Earth and invest them in conserving forests, oceans, freshwater, endangered species, and fighting climate change.

The initiative will run from Thursday through April 24. Earth Day is April 22.

Several major app developers who are participating in the program said that an environmental initiative on this scale is relatively new to them, but fits their values and that they're thrilled to take part.

"It's kind of in our DNA to do this," said Patrick Liu, general manager for Rovio's Stockholm Studio and creative director for the popular app Angry Birds 2. Liu said that as part of "Apps for Earth," Angry Birds 2 will add a new level that highlights the importance of ocean conservation.

"We have a special level, that's made specifically for this campaign, we're going to see the birds kind of saving the oceans from the naughty pigs," Liu said. "We also have a special power-up made, it's almost like revenge of the fish, where we kind of liberate the fish from the nets, and they're going to fight back."

Players won't have to go to the App store to see this -- it will upload automatically to their game. They will then receive environmental messages, and in app purchases will then go to WWF. "The extent of this initiative is pretty new I would say," said Liu.

And then there's EA's SimCity BuildIt, which since launching has garnered 64 million players, each of whom is a "mayor" who designs and builds a city. As part of "Apps for Earth," players will now be able to add natural environmental features to their cities - planting a huge forest within the city itself (see below), installing a coral reef offshore, and creating a nearby habitat to protect pandas, gorillas, or even snow leopards.

Micro transactions is an easy way for us to transfer into micro donations.

"Now they can really create a big forest to their city, and bring back the trees," says Inka Vikman, a senior producer for the game, which is made by EA. "And the game code creates a unique forest batch for you. There's over 12,000 variations of the forest, what it's going to look like."

Some of these features will only be available in the game for the next 10 days; in addition, players will be able to buy an "Apps for Earth" pack for $ 1.99, with the proceeds going to WWF.

The environmental messages will also be hard to miss. "We're going to communicate this to the players with push notes, in-game messages, and trailers," says Vikman.

With yet another participating game, Jurassic World: The Game, something similar will happen. Players purchase card packs as they build their park in the game, explains Alex Thabet, the founder and CEO of Ludia (which designed the game). These cards provide them with an array of possible buildings and structures, and the game is adding three new packs that will contain options like a wind turbine or solar greenhouse, as well as two new dinosaurs that can only be gotten by purchasing the WWF card pack.

The proceeds then, again, go to WWF. "Micro transactions is an easy way for us to transfer into micro donations," says Thabet.

Other well-known apps participating in "Apps for Earth" include Candy Crush Soda Saga, Map my Run+, and Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes.

And according to Apple's Jackson, this initiative may be only the first way that Apple prompts its vast number of customers to be greener. "We don't know what seeds we're planting here," she said. "We hope that this is more than just the campaign, the 14ththrough til Earth Day, but that what happens after this is just as important."

- Washington Post

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