Apple invests millions on the environment

Apple has more than $150 billion in the bank. What has Apple CEO Tim Cook found to spend Apple's cash on? The environment.

One of Apple's solar arrays in Maiden, North Carolina.
Image credit: Apple

Like Martin Luther's Ninety-Five Theses, Apple has posted its feelings on corporate responsibility to the environment right on the front page of its website, one of the most trafficked corporate sites in the world.

Apple's Environmental Responsibility page is one part green marketing and another part corporate guilt-trip aimed at its competitors for not being responsible enough. Apple ran a full-page newspaper ad on Earth Day this year -- while Apple was involved in patent litigation with Samsung -- saying, "There are some ideas we want every company to copy."

Among other things, Apple is close to its goal of powering all its worldwide facilities with renewable energy. Currently, 94% of corporate offices and data centers are renewable, and the next task is its retail stores.

The company is building its own massive solar farms outside its data centers, including two 100-acre fields near its Maiden, North Carolina data center that generates some 40 megawatts. The company also has Bloom boxes, a fuel cell system that runs off biogas, installed both at its data centers and at its Cupertino headquarters.

Aside from the passive-aggressive ad campaign, the company is being uncommonly -- for Apple anyway -- revealing about its environmental efforts.

WIRED reporter Steven Levy got an exclusive, behind-the-scenes tour of Apple's Nevada data center -- also on Earth Day -- plus an interview with Lisa Jackson, former head of the EPA and Apple's new Vice President in charge of Environmental Initiatives, a direct report to CEO Tim Cook.

"It's an unusual trip in that its point is to give a reporter exposure to the way Apple works, a departure from the company's usual maniacal secrecy. But when it comes to the environment, Apple consciously carves out an exception to its standard opacity. Part of the motive, of course, is generating a halo effect from good works. But Apple also hopes to inspire other companies and organizations to embark on similar ecologically helpful enterprises. Though it may not have always been the case, Apple has a good Earth Day story to tell."

The company also shared a new video, entitled "Better," that's narrated by CEO Tim Cook. The video lays out Apple's vision for the future, arguing that the company wants "more than anything, to change [the world] for the better."

"Better can't be better, if it doesn't consider everything," Cook says. "Our products, our values. And an even stronger commitment to the environment for the future. To use greener materials, less packaging, to do everything we can to keep products out of landfills. Changes that will benefit people as well as the planet. To us, better is a force of nature. It drives us to build things we never imagined."

Apple has made significant strides from the days when Greenpeace named it the "least green" tech company.

With its massive checking account, it's easy for Apple to spend the extra cash required to be "green." Still, the campaign is a call to action for both its competitors and its partners. Tongue-in-cheek copying ad aside, Apple is throwing down a gauntlet.

Apple didn't invent environmental responsibility, just like it didn't invent the smartphone, the MP3 player, or the tablet. But, like with those other products, it does seem to want to show the rest of the world how to do it right. If its past successes are any indication, Apple will have a long line of imitators ready to do their part. Only this time, there won't be any patent infringement lawsuits.