Protecting the Environment Is the App Store’s Latest Killer Feature

Open the Apple App Store today and you’ll see several popular apps, including Cut the Rope, Blizzard’s free-to-play card game Hearthstone, and LINE messenger, all supporting something called “Apps for Earth,” a new initiative from Apple and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that’s designed to raise awareness for a litany of environmental issues that threaten the health and well-being of this blue marble we call Earth.

Apple has already taken several initiatives to ensure that it, as one of its corporate mottos puts it, “leaves the Earth better than we found it,” including powering 100 percent of its US data centers with renewable energy. But the role of the App Store as an agent for environmental protection is an altogether new concept—and one that may be more powerful than any of Apple’s previous efforts.

“We know that our customers care about climate change,” Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of environment, policy, and social initiatives, told Motherboard. “We know that they care about the disappearance of places and the ways of life that they love. [But] what we hear a lot is, ‘How can we get involved?’”

By downloading apps, of course.

From now until April 24, a total of 27 apps on the App Store will donate 100 percent of their proceeds from app purchases and select in-app content to the WWF. The overall idea, according to Apple and the WWF, is to use the popularity of the App Store to put issues like deforestation and making sure fresh water is easily available worldwide, in front of people who may not ordinarily be thinking about these kinds of issues.

“These are apps that people already love,” Carter Roberts, the president and CEO of the WWF in the US, told Motherboard, “and it’s putting an environmental message in front of them in a way that’s unexpected. This may be the kind of thing that really pushes them into doing something that they haven’t done before.”

The exact Apps for Earth content varies from app to app. Blizzard’s Hearthstone, for example, is offering an exclusive card, Kahadgar, that players can work into their decks. Cut the Rope has 15 exclusive levels starring a “sneezing panda”-inspired panda in lieu of the usual character Om Nom. Photo-editing app Enlight, which won an Apple design award last year, is offering exclusive filters and stickers that budding photographers can use to augment their photos.

“Natural photography is kind of a genre on its own, so it made a lot of sense for us to be involved,” said Itai Tsiddon, co-founder of Enlight parent company Lightricks. “We’re not a huge company, but we’ve seen some success on the platform so it feels nice to give back.”

For Tsiddon, the sheer scale of the App Store makes it a perfect avenue to expose everyday people to causes like the preservation of nature. “Do we want to leave our kids a planet that’s as nice as we got? This is an easy cause for us to get behind.”

“Any platform that can help awareness and communicate information to people who might not be otherwise engaged is incredibly valuable,” added Ultimate Guitar’s Jonathan Kehl, whose app Tabs & Chords will feature in-app purchases of environmentally related guitar tabs. “The reason we’re participating is we as a species are dependent on our environment. I think it’s something that everybody should be interested in, whether you’re an app developer or not.”

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