Last year Apple hired Lisa Jackson, head of the EPA from 2009 to 2013, as vice president of environmental initiatives. On Wednesday, Apple released its 2014 Environmental Responsibility Report. The report states that the company’s carbon footprint from energy use dropped by nearly a third from fiscal year 2011 to 2013, even as energy consumption increased 44 percent. The company also found that its overall carbon footprint from 2012 to 2013 shrank by three percent, the first time it has declined.
Fully 145 of Apple’s U.S. retail stores are powered using 100 percent renewable energy, as are all of its data centers. The report states that every Apple retail store in the world will now take back Apple products for free and recycle them responsibly, saying that “we must be accountable for every Apple product at every stage of its use.”
This includes getting more use out of products while using less energy. The average total power consumed by Apple products has been reduced by 57 percent since 2008, with each product far exceeding the efficiency guidelines set by ENERGY STAR.
The report is not all self praise. One of the company’s stated environmental goals is to conserve precious resources. Reducing the weight of products makes a big difference (while also appealing to consumers for other reasons) and the newest iMac uses 68 percent less material than the first iMac. However, water use rose by nine cubic meters per employee in 2013, to a total of 29 cubic meters. The report attributes this to preparation for construction of the Apple Campus 2 as well as an expansion of global facilities.
Apple’s new campus is being built near the existing campus in Cupertino, CA. It will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy sources and will be full of natural ventilation and open spaces, including enough space for around 7,000 trees.
Beyond Apple’s headquarters is a globalized economy that the company depends on for sourcing, manufacturing, shipping, selling, and using their products. This environment is not as easily controlled. Apple can set a leading example by building solar farms and setting up ambitious recycling programs, but when it comes to the companies that Apple relies on for supply chain purposes like Foxconn and Pegatron, change is harder to come by.
“Carbon emissions from our manufacturing partners remain the largest portion of our carbon footprint, an area we’re committed to addressing,” the company said in a blog post.
While employees of the California headquarters will have access to biofuel buses, 300 electric vehicle charging stations, hundreds of shared bicycles, and intercampus shuttles, employees working abroad at sites manufacturing Apple devices are not as lucky.
To coincide with the report and Jackson’s one-year anniversary with Apple, on Wednesday 80 different groups concerned with the company’s environmental and human rights record sent a letter to Jackson asking her to live up to her legacy by halting Apple’s poisoning of Chinese workers. The groups estimate that that cost of doing this would be less than $1 per device.
“Young workers in your supplier factories run the risk of being exposed to high levels of toxic chemicals and suffering from grave diseases as a result,” states the letter. “Since you are a chemical engineer and senior manager at Apple, we hope you will influence Apple to be the first major electronics brand to disclose and eliminate the most dangerous chemicals from your manufacturing processes and ensure better protections for workers who are exposedto chemicals.”
On Earth Day, Apple promised to start giving more frequent environmental updates to consumers. This report marks a step in fulfilling that promise. While there is certainly room for criticism, there is also room for praise simply for the fact that Apple is willing to come right out and state that climate change is an issue that the company is both responsible for and capable of helping solve.
“We believe climate change is real,” states the report. “And that it’s a real problem. As a global company that makes some of the most popular products in the world, we know we use a lot of energy and material, which in turn generates greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. That’s the part of the problem we can help solve.”