As a gigantic company with a lot of influence and cash, Apple has an opportunity to show leadership on important societal and environmental issues. A decade ago, this didn't seem to be as big a priority at the company, but ever since Tim Cook became the boss, things have been changing. It's probably just a reflection of Cook's own values and sensibilities, but it is a welcome change. Recent examples include Apple buying a forest the size of San Francisco in the US for conservation purposes, building solar farms, protecting 1 million acres of forest in China and building solar farms there, etc.
China is definitely a big focus for the company now, and not just because their products are assembled there (people think while iPhones and iPads are made in China, but most of the components actually come from other countries, like Japan, South-Korea, and the US, but the final assembly is in China), but also because it is becoming their biggest market. Tim Cook has recently joined the Paulson Institute's Council for Sustainable Urbanization, which aims to help China develop more sustainably.
Another big effort that was just announced for China has to do with energy:
One aspect is that Apple is significantly expanding its clean-energy investments in China. Apple plans to build more than 200 megawatts of solar projects in the northern, eastern and southern grid regions of China, which will produce the equivalent of the energy used by more by than 265,000 Chinese homes in a year and will begin to offset the energy used in Apple’s supply chain. This is on top of the 40 MW project in the Sichuan Province that just finished construction.
Another is that Apple is launching a new initiative to drive its manufacturing partners to become more energy efficient and to use clean energy for their manufacturing operations. Apple will partner with suppliers in China to install more than 2 gigawatts of new clean energy in the coming years. "Apple also will share best practices in procuring clean energy and building high-quality renewable energy projects, and provide hands-on assistance to some suppliers in areas like energy efficiency audits, regulatory guidance and building strong partnerships to bring new clean energy projects to China," the company writes. "As part of Apple’s industry-leading program, Foxconn will construct 400 megawatts of solar, starting in the Henan Province, by 2018. Foxconn has committed to generate as much clean energy as its Zhengzhou factory consumes in final production of iPhone."
Apple says that the programs will avoid over 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution in the country between now and 2020, equivalent to taking nearly 4 million passenger vehicles off the road for one year.
At the last update, the company had 87% of its energy use powered by clean sources. These types of projects can help them get to 100%, which would definitely be a step in the right direction. Of course they still have work to do on other fronts, but when they do something right, they should be praised.