On the eve of Earth Day, Apple is doing a big media push to highlight its environmental progress.
As part of that push, it gave Wired writer Steven Levy access to its new environmental executive, Lisa Jackson.
Jackson left her job as head of the Environmental Protection Agency a few months ago. He reports directly to CEO Tim Cook.
Most of Apple’s plans for becoming greener started before her time, but Jackson is now holding Apple’s environmental feet to the fire, helping it to green up its manufacturing processes, says Wired’s Levy.
Apple used to be a pretty big data center polluter, according to Greenpeace who for years targeted Apple with demonstrations and petitions asking it to clean up its act.
Today Apple’s data centers, the place that runs iCloud, use 100% renewable energy, earning praise from that very same environmental watchdog, Greenpeace. In a report last month, Greenpeace wrote: “Apple’s commitment to renewable energy has helped set a new bar for the industry, illustrating in very concrete terms that a 100% renewable internet is within its reach.”
Apple is now trying to power all of its facilities with renewable energy, including its stores and is making commendable progress.
In 2013, 73% of the energy it used for its facilities was green: 86% at corporate campuses, 100% for its data centers. So far in 2014, more than 120 U.S. retail stores are using renewable energy, too, it says.
While all of that can make you feel better about using iCloud for your email and photos, or visiting the Apple Genius bar, Jackson isn’t as easily satisfied.
Most of Apple’s carbon footprint actually comes from manufacturing devices like iPads, iPhones and Macs, not from powering its buildings. In 2013, Apple’s facilities produced .6 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions while manufacturing produced 23.6 metric tons, it said.
Jackson, who reports directly to CEO Tim Cook in her role of vice president of Environmental Initiatives, is working on that bigger, harder problem.
For instance, last year an engineer told her that Apple’s use of aluminum, a major material for its products, was having more of an environmental impact than Apple thought it was. She pressed for new ways to measure that impact even though it meant that Apple’s 2013 environmental report couldn’t show the kind of progress the company wanted.
She told Wired’s Levy: “We should challenge the most innovative company—which I think Apple is–to do everything it wants, but do it better. To give you all the data you could possibly want, but none of the emissions that go along with it.”
If she and the engineers at Apple could figure that out – and the sooner the better – the whole world will be a lot better off.