Sustainable Brands: The Greening of Apple Under Lisa Jackson

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Apple places high priority on its environmental credentials, including launching a microsite on its eco-responsibility, releasing “Better,” an Earth Day video narrated by CEO Tim Cook, and placing ads about its sustainability progress in newspapers worldwide proclaiming “There are some things we want every company to copy” in a not-so-veiled jab at Samsung.

But Apple’s biggest green commitment happened just over a year ago, when it hired former U.S. Environmental Protection Agency director Lisa Jackson to help clean up its act. According to the company’s 2014 environmental responsibility report, she’s doing a good job—even while there is still room to grow. [more]

When Jackson joined Apple, she commented, “Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry.”

Investments in renewable energy at its data centers helped Apple slash its carbon footprint by 31 percent from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2013, despite power consumption soaring 44 percent over the same period. One challenge is its suppliers, with Apple’s production partners at Foxconn and Pegatron responsible for the largest portion of its remaining carbon footprint, which the company is striving to minimize.

The company has installed 55,000 solar panels tracking the course of the sun from a 400,000 square meter field near its data center in Maiden, North Carolina, in efforts to cut the environmental footprint of its cloud. 

On the retail front, 145 of its U.S. stores, including its Stanford, CA, location (above) are now powered by 100 percent renewable energy.

Its futuristic new campus—spiking water usage, much to government officials’ chagrin—will be “the greenest building on the planet,” accordign to CEO Tim Cook.

Apple is using over 9 percent of its old HQ in building the new one, recycling all concrete and trees cleared for construction and using the lumber in the building. When completed, 100 percent of the facility’s energy will come from renewable sources, including a large on-site solar farm, and will have natural ventilation for 75% of the year.

A year into the job, Jackson has been consistent in delivering and driving the sustainability agenda at Apple.

“Having values be a part of this discussion is really important because there are value judgments to be made all the time,” Jackson said. “If you want to inspire engineers at Apple, you walk into a room and say, for example, 100 per cent renewable energy company-wide would be great…but it can’t be done. It’s impossible.” That kind of challenge, Jackson said, is what the company culture is all about—and pushes its employees to think most creatively.

Ironically, in October 2009, when Jackson was head of the EPA, Apple caused a stir by quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the group’s opposition to mandating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, preferring to reduce greenhouse gas omissions on its own “because we believe it is the right thing to do,” wrote Catherine Novelli, VP of Worldwide Government Affairs at Apple. “For those companies who cannot or will not do the same, Apple supports regulating greenhouse gas emissions, and it is frustrating to find the Chamber at odds with us in this effort.”

For more on Jackson’s views about Apple’s sustainability progress and views, check out her recent comments at Fortune Brainstorm Green below:

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[Images via Apple]

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