Apple believes our planet deserves their best thinking. So they’re constantly striving to find or invent solutions to important environmental challenges—whether it’s a line of robots that disassembles iPhone for recycling, a vast network of solar panels on urban rooftops to power their facilities in Singapore, or new product designs that eliminate harmful substances like beryllium.
Apple’s 2016 Environmental Responsibility Report, covering fiscal year 2015, is their ninth annual update, highlighting the progress they’ve made and the places they’re working hard to improve.
Focus and simplify is one of their mantras. So, after deep reflection, data analysis, and conversations with stakeholders, they set three priorities where they believe Apple can make the most impact:
- Reduce their impact on climate change by using renewable energy sources and driving energy efficiency in their products and facilities.
- Conserve precious resources so they all can thrive.
- Pioneer the use of safer materials in their products and processes.
For starters, as of January 2016, they’re sourcing or generating enough renewable energy to cover 93 percent of the electricity they use at their facilities worldwide. In fact, Apple is now 100 percent renewable in 23 countries, including China, Germany, Singapore, and the United States. They’re also 100 percent renewable at every one of their data centers. So whenever you send an iMessage, download a song from iTunes, or ask Siri a question, the energy Apple uses doesn’t contribute to climate change.
In the past five years, they have reduced the carbon footprint of Apple facilities by 64 percent thanks to their clean energy use, avoiding over 1 million metric tons of carbon emissions. They’re working hard to reach 100 percent renewable energy for all of their facilities worldwide, and help their suppliers in China and everywhere around the world make the same transition to clean energy as they have.
They’re as committed as ever to conserving precious resources. In 2015, they diverted more than 89 million pounds of e-waste from land fills. And more recently, they introduced Liam, a line of robots that can disassemble an iPhone every 11 seconds and sort its high-quality components so they can be recycled, reducing the need to mine those resources from the earth. It’s an experiment in recycling technology, and they hope this kind of thinking will inspire others.
They’re also making strides in their efforts to preserve working forests, which, when managed properly, can be important renewable resources. Last year, over 99 percent of their product packaging came from paper that was recycled or sourced from sustainably managed forests. They’re also partnering with The Conservation Fund to protect sustain-ably managed working forests in the United States, and with World Wildlife Fund to transition forests into responsible management in China.
For years, they’ve led the electronics industry in removing toxins such as arsenic, PVC, brominated flame retardants, and phthalates from their products. Many toxins are restricted not only in the products themselves but also in the manufacturing process, because they are committed to the people who make, use, and recycle their products. This past year, they started a Full Material Disclosure program, which will show us the chemical composition of every material in every component of their products so they can understand their effect on their health and on the environment.
At Apple, they believe that innovation can happen anywhere and great ideas can come from anyone. That’s why they engage with diverse stakeholders. Regular dialogue with NGOs, university researchers, industry experts, investors, policy makers, and their customers provides them with a different lens through which to view their work.
They engage to develop a better understanding of emerging issues, to gain additional expertise in key areas, and to identify potential partnerships for future projects. Through these formal and informal conversations, they can gather feedback that shapes their thinking and planning.
They approach stakeholder engagements strategically, working with organizations and associations to generate meaningful information exchanges. Some updates from fiscal year 2015 include:
Memberships, such as:
- Ellen MacArthur Foundation CE100, a global platform of companies and innovators focused on accelerating the transition to a circular economy.
- Corporate Eco Forum, an organization that facilitates the exchange of best practices and the sharing of insights from business leaders across various sectors, with the goal of accelerating sustainable innovation.
- World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), which provides a forum to engage with like-minded organizations to identify pathways to a sustainable future for business, society, and the environment.
- Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), an association working to support the long-term success of the advanced energy industry nationwide, to ensure that the energy they all use is secure, clean, and affordable.
Their CEO, Tim Cook, sits on the Paulson Institute’s CEO Council for Sustainable Urbanization, working with other CEOs of top Chinese and Western companies to advance sustainability in China.
They formed their own Green Chemistry Advisory Board, made up of some of the world’s leading toxicologists, researchers, and academics, to help them identify innovative ways to minimize or eliminate toxins from their supply chain.
They’re part of the Ceres Company Network, a coalition of companies and investors working together to integrate sustainability into their core strategies. In partnership with Ceres, they hosted a roundtable meeting with United States–based and interna- tional NGOs with a focus on their safer-materials strategy.
Through their work with The Conservation Fund, they’re permanently protecting more than 36,000 acres of working forest in the eastern United States.
Their project with World Wildlife Fund will significantly increase the amount of responsibly managed forest by protecting as many as 1 million acres across China.
Apple’s renewable energy strategy
An important first step in managing energy use is to ensure their facilities use as little as possible. That’s why they design them for maximum energy efficiency, and regularly audit their energy use to identify further opportunities for energy optimization.
Renewable Energy Generation. Where feasible, they produce their own renewable energy by building their own solar arrays, biogas fuel cells, and micro-hydro generation systems.
Renewable Energy Investments. Where it’s not feasible to produce their own, they purchase renewable energy, investing in local and newer projects that follow their robust renewable energy sourcing principles.
Grid-Purchased Renewable Energy. In cases where they aren’t able to purchase renewable energy in this way due to local regulations, Apple purchases renewable energy credits (RECs). They apply the same rigour here as for their other grid-purchased renewables, and they also register and retire these RECs in certified tracking systems. When Apple acquires RECs, they require that they are Green-e Energy certified and come from the same region—and preferably the same state—as the Apple facility they support.
Their renewable energy sourcing principles.
They encounter many legal and regulatory frameworks around the world that constrain their renewable energy supply options. In each location, they endeavour to choose the strongest approach available to us as defined by three guiding principles:
Displacement. They seek to displace the more polluting forms of energy in the same electric grid region in which they operate—by putting into the grid an amount of renewable energy equal to the amount of energy taken from the grid by their facilities.
Additionally. They strive to create new clean energy that adds to the energy sources already delivering to the grid. This generally means participating in renewable energy projects that would not have been built without Apple’s involvement. They make sure that the energy they count toward their goals is not counted toward regulatory obligations that utilities must meet, such as the Renewable Portfolio Standards in many states.
Accountability. They apply rigor in measuring and tracking their energy supply resources, and use third-party registries such as WREGIS and NC-RETS, certification programs such as Green-e Energy, and contractual provisions to ensure that all renewable energy supplied to Apple is supplied only to Apple. When needed, they work with industry partners and governmental entities to create such systems.
Your grid is their grid.
When it is not feasible to power their facilities with onsite renewable energy, they match their load with renewable energy generated by either Apple-owned projects or third-party projects. They put the clean energy they generate onto the local grid, displacing the more polluting forms of energy.
The best way to think about it is like a bank: You can deposit $20 in one bank branch, then go to another branch and withdraw $20. Renewable energy works in a similar way. And Apple’s renewable energy approach goes a step further to make sure they “deposit” on the same grid as the energy they are “withdrawing.”
Their work is led by Lisa Jackson, Apple’s Vice President of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives, reporting directly to CEO Tim Cook. The Office of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives works with teams across Apple to set strategy, engage stakeholders, and communicate progress. Apple's integrated approach means that decisions about Apple values, including environment, are reviewed and supported at the highest levels of the company.
Also published on Medium.