Apple campaign touts progress on reducing environmental impact

This post has been corrected. See below for details.

[This post was updated at 10:24]

Under Chief Executive Tim Cook, Apple has become increasingly vocal about its efforts to reduce the company's effect on the environment. On Monday, the company launched a revamped website that highlights its progress and discloses some new efforts as well. 

The new site, which includes a solemn video narrated by Cook, coincides with Earth Day (which has already started in some parts of the world) and announces Apple's lofty goal: "We want to leave the world better than we found it."

"Better," says Cook in the video. "It's a powerful word. And a powerful idea. It makes us look at the world and want more than anything to change it for the better."

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Though Apple has previously made disclosures about its environmental impact, the new site dramatically expands the scope and detail in terms of efforts to reduce harmful materials in its products and progress toward using only renewable energy at its facilities. 

Just a few weeks ago, Apple was praised by Greenpeace for reducing its reliance on so-called "conflict materials" that come from areas subject to human rights abuses. The environmental group also recently lauded Apple for having among the most environmentally friendly data centers in the tech industry.

Indeed, according to the new website, Apple's data centers now run on 100% renewable energy. And across all Apple facilities, the company uses 94% renewable energy, up from 35% in 2010.

The company also disclosed that it's in the process of expanding its product take-back program. Instead of just throwing out old gadgets, Apple users can currently return any product by printing out a label from the Apple website and shipping it back to the company. 

Soon, users will simply be able to take any product back to an Apple store for disposal. 

The company also notes that it's using more recycled materials in its products and is making strides toward using less materials overall.

Though many of these efforts began under Steve Jobs, Cook has expanded them and has been far more public in talking about them and why they matter to the company. 

During the company's annual shareholders meeting in February, he said Apple doesn't just measure itself by the size of its bottom line. He insisted that its social and environmental efforts were more about making a better world than enriching the company. 

"When I think about doing the right thing," he said to one shareholder, "I don't think about an ROI." 

"If that's a hard line for you," Cook continued, "then you should get out of the stock."

Last summer, Cook hired Lisa Jackson, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Obama, to be Apple's vice president of environmental initiatives.

In another example of Apple's desire to talk about its environmental efforts, Jackson gave Wired scribe Steven Levy a personal tour of its new, environmentally friendly data center in Nevada. 

As Levy wrote: "It's an unusual trip in that its point is to give a reporter exposure to the way Apple works, a departure from the company’s usual maniacal secrecy."

Levy's story also notes that a couple years ago, Apple was being bashed by Greenpeace because its data centers were among the most reliant on fuel sources like coal.

And of the company's environmental benchmarks, Levy writes: "Apple does not include the manufacturing, transport, and use of its actual products, which accounts for 98 percent of its carbon footprint. Still, its accomplishment on facilities, particularly data centers, is significant.

Apple is clearly excited about its progress. Enough so that in addition to the interview, Jackson will make the kind of solo public appearance that is rare for Apple execs when she delivers the second annual Stephen H. Schneider Memorial Lecture at Stanford. The lecture honors the memory of Schneider, who was a leading researcher of climate change.

[For the record, April 21, 10:24 a.m. PDT: This article previously said the 94% renewable energy figure included Apple Stores. It does not include Apple's stores.]


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