Apple, the world's biggest public company, has been making a lot of positive moves recently. It is rumored to be working on an electric car (and I even think there's a good chance they might eventually buy Tesla, here are 9 reasons why), has bought a forest the size of San Francisco for conservation, is already running 100% of its data-centers with renewable energy and will also power its new 'Spaceship' HQ in Cupertino, California, with clean power thanks to new solar farms it is building. Even Greenpeace, who used to be very critical of the fruit company, has been praising them for their environmental leadership.
Apparently Tim Cook has scheduled reminders to make big green investments are regular intervals on his Apple Watch, because it's barely been a couple weeks since Apple announced that it was making a big solar investment in China, and they're already back with an even bigger project.
Apple's main focus is to design products, write software, do research & development on various technologies, etc. They don't really see themselves as a manufacturer, which is why they sub-contract pretty much all of that stuff to suppliers.
As an aside, most people think that Apple products are "made in China" -- that's only partly true, the final assembly might be in the country, and many parts might also be made there, but many of the major components actually come from other countries like Japan, South-Korea, Taiwan, etc. Most of the economic value of these products comes from countries other than China, since putting all the piece together is a fairly low-value task compared to actually designing the products and the software, making the CPU, memory, touch screens, etc.
Anyway. The planet doesn't care too much about how Apple and its suppliers split the task; the end result is still that manufacturing is huge fraction of the impact of Apple's products on the planet, and even if the company powers all its data-centers and offices with renewable energy, there remains a big gaping hole in their green plans.
Thankfully, they seem to recognize that and are taking steps to address that part of the equation. The company has just announced a new multi-year project with World Wildlife Fund to significantly increase responsibly managed forests across China. "The new forestland program aims to protect as much as 1 million acres of responsibly managed working forests which provide fiber for pulp, paper and wood products."
Any way you slice it, 1 million acres is a lot.
Lisa Jackson, former head of the U.S. EPA and now Apple's green honcho, had this to say: “Forests, like energy, can be renewable resources. We believe we can run on naturally renewable resources and ensure that we protect—and create—as much sustainable working forest as needed to produce the virgin paper in our product packaging. This is an important step toward that goal and our commitment to leave the world better than we found it.”
Apple’s goal is to achieve a "net-zero impact on the world’s supply of sustainable virgin fiber".
On the manufacturing side, the company is expanding its renewable energy projects to manufacturing facilities in China. They're not giving details on exactly how much that expansion is, but the long-term goal is made clear by the company's CEO:
“We’ve set an example by greening our data centers, retail stores and corporate offices, and we’re ready to start leading the way toward reducing carbon emissions from manufacturing,” said Tim Cook. “This won’t happen overnight—in fact it will take years—but it’s important work that has to happen, and Apple is in a unique position to take the initiative toward this ambitious goal. It is a responsibility we accept. We are excited to work with leaders in our supply chain who want to be on the cutting edge of China’s green transformation.”
The ultimate goal is to power all operations worldwide on 100% renewable energy.
Apple might not be perfect, but I certainly would like to see more big companies do this kind of thing. One bold step after the other, and we'll get somewhere.
Here's a flyover of Apple's solar farm in Maiden, North-Carolina. The Chinese solar farms will no doubt be similar: