Lisa Jackson, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and Apple's Vice President for Environmental Initiatives, issued a 30-page report [PDF] outlining Apple's global corporate impacts on the environment and the company's efforts to minimize its carbon footprint across both the company itself and its supply chain.
In a letter to customers and shareholders, Jackson wrote that Apple is looking to take action "in the face of the very real problem of climate change" through the use of greener materials, renewable energy, and elimination of toxins from products.
Apple's data centers, a number of corporate campuses around the world, and 140 US retail stores are powered by renewable energy, including solar, wind, and geothermal. The company says its carbon footprint has dropped by 31% over the past three years while overall energy consumption rose by 42%.
At its Maiden, North Carolina data center, for example, Apple used 162 million kilowatt-hours of power in fiscal 2013, but its biogas fuel cells and solar arrays generated 167 million kWh on site. This means the company is a net-power producer, actually putting more power back onto the grid than it consumes.
In Oregon, Apple says it is building a micro-hydro power generation system that generates electricity from local irrigation canals and, in the meantime, is buying wind energy through the Oregon electric grid. At its Reno, Nevada data center, Apple is building a new solar facility and buying geothermal power until that solar plant is operational. Another data center in Newark, California uses 100% renewable energy purchased on the wholesale energy market in that state.
Apple has reengineered its product packaging to save space, allowing more products to be shipped on a single pallet. For example, the iPhone 5s box is 41% smaller than the box of the original iPhone. Additionally, every Apple Retail Store takes back all Apple products for complimentary recycling.
None of this is inexpensive, though nowhere in the report does Apple discuss the costs of being a corporate leader on the environment. At its annual shareholder meeting earlier this year, Apple CEO Tim Cook angrily rebuffed a representative from a conservative think tank who asked that Apple disclose the costs of its environmental initiatives and embrace a corporate philosophy that focuses on profits first.
In an emotional response, Cook said that Apple does many things that are right and just without primary consideration of return on investment (ROI). Cook responded to the questioner "if you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out [of Apple's stock]."
The report does get down into some nitty-gritty statistics about energy use at the company, something that is sure to be pored over by analysts and competitors. Among other things:
- Apple employees drove more than 500,000 miles in hybrid vehicle rentals in 2012 and 2013
- 2100 employees per day use Apple's controversial biodiesel-powered coaches to commute to Apple's campuses
- The company has 300 complimentary electric vehicle charging ports and is adding more
- Apple used 736 million kilowatt-hours of electricity across its worldwide facilities, including corporate campuses (238 million), data centers (324 million), and retail stores (174 million).
The report event gets into water usage (2.3 million cubic meters in 2013), landscaping (drought-tolerant plants save 3 million gallons of water per year), natural gas consumption (7.5 million therms), and landfill-disposed trash (2.7 million kilograms).
Jackson's letter concludes by saying Apple will strive to show other companies "that what's good for the planet can also be good for business."
Combining the company's environmental position with Apple's public support for the LGBT community, Tim Cook's Apple is taking a firm stance on corporate responsibility and activism.
Before he passed away, Steve Jobs told Cook that, as CEO, he should never ask himself "What would Steve do?" Instead, Cook should run the company by his own convictions.
This is Tim Cook's Apple now.
What do you think of Apple's corporate activism? Should the company try to blaze a trail for other companies or should it stick to making iPhones and iPads? Let us know your opinion in the comments below.
Jordan Golson is an Apple Columnist for TechRepublic. He also writes about technology and automobiles for WIRED and MacRumors. He has worked for Apple Retail twice and has been writing about technology since 2007.