Just ahead of Earth Day, Apple has published their annual environmental responsibility report, much of which highlights the projects they have undertaken in the past year to reduce their footprint, such as the two massive solar farms under construction in China and the purchase of 36,000 acres of forest in North Carolina and Maine. But what is perhaps most striking about the report is the bigger picture news that all of Apple’s U.S. operations, all of their data centers and 87 percent of their global operations now run on renewable energy.
In their report, Apple boasts that “all our product lines don’t just adhere to ENERGY STAR standards, they surpass them. And while we have a long way to go, our efforts are working. Even though we’re manufacturing and shipping more products than ever, our carbon emissions per product have been dropping since 2011.” This has been through a multifaceted approach, now spearheaded by ex-EPA chief Lisa Jackson. In the past year, Apple has “developed a renewable micro‑hydro project to power our data center in Prineville, Oregon,” and is “building a solar farm in China to offset energy used by our offices and retail stores.” This is in addition to a massive solar-powered command center in Arizona and the construction of a new California campus that Tim Cook claims will be the “greenest building on the planet.”
In addition to their substantial investments in renewable energy, Apple has made steady progress in ensuring that the truly massive quantities of consumer electronics they produce are made using less physical materials, and that more of those materials are recycled or come from sustainable sources. In addition to the purchase of 36,000 acres of forest to sustainably source packaging for their products, Apple states that “Today’s Mac Pro uses 74 percent less aluminum and steel than the previous design. The newest 21.5‑inch iMac is made with 68 percent less material than the first iMac, and the new MacBook uses 32 percent less aluminum than the first-generation MacBook Air.”
With all those electronics proving ultimately disposable, Apple notes that it has made progress in developing programs to reuse and recycle: “In 2014, we collected 40,396 metric tons of e‑waste through our take‑back programs.” They also claim that they are continuing to work on ways to recover and reuse rare earth metals, and that’s a key issue in terms of environmental responsibility. Used in smartphones, tablets and laptops, rare earth metals are a finite resource that are harvested in an exceptionally energy intensive process, and that can prove highly toxic is improperly disposed of. And, in 2013, Apple’s own supplier responsibility report found “that over 100 facilities failed to recycle or properly dispose of hazardous waste.”
The progress in renewable energy and energy savings are genuinely commendable, and there’s reason for optimism that we may see Apple hit 100% renewable energy for global operations in the coming years. But for Apple to claim rounded environmental responsibility it’s imperative that suppliers must be held to the same standards. Click here to read the whole report.
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