Apple has partnered with a company called GT Advanced to build a manufacturing plant in Arizona that should be able to produce enough artificial sapphire glass for millions, if not hundreds of millions, of iDevices. It's not clear if all that sapphire will be used for an iWatch, or the next iPhone, or iPads, or whatever, but because sapphire is the second hardest mineral, right behind diamond, these would be extremely durable and scratch-proof.
But making all that artificial sapphire and slicing it into glass must require a lot of energy (the plant even uses particle accelerators!). The good news: Apple wants the plant to use 100% renewable energy from day on. The company negotiated with the state and local power company, Salt River Project, about how to make that happen. New solar and geothermal projects are being built because of the project.
SRP has signed several new agreements to purchase as much as 75 megawatts of energy from renewable sources in recent months, though it is unclear how much of that is related to the Apple deal. The utility has added power from a 25-megawatt geothermal facility in Beaver County, Utah as well as a 50-megawatt geothermal plant in the Imperial Valley of southern California.
Those agreements are in addition to the more than 700 megawatts of green power SRP already purchases. SRP has not said exactly how much it expects the Apple facility to draw, only that it believes the factory will "add significant electrical load." (source)
It's not the first time that Apple builds new clean energy generation for its needs. Below is a video that shows their solar farm in Maiden, North-Carolina:
On a separate note...We have to give credit where credit is due, despite its many shortcomings, Apple has been making huge efforts to improve their environmental performance since they were first criticized for it many years ago. Their products almost all rate EPEAT Gold and are made from highly recyclable glass and metals. Their hardware and software has made great progress on the energy-efficiency front (their latest free OS update, Mavericks, is all about that), they are on their way to achieving 100% of renewable energy use (they were at 75% last year), they even hired Lisa Jackson, former EPA chief, to run their environmental efforts.
Even the perennial argument about repairability is a two sided coin. Yes, you can't just open up your iPhone or iPad and change the battery yourself (not easily anyway), but that doesn't mean those devices aren't built for repairability. They are. It's just that they're designed so that Apple can fix them in its stores. Other manufacturers can't do that because most of their devices end up being repaired by a guy at the back of a Best Buy, so they have to be very easy to open up. But Apple has its own network of stores and so they can do that. It's probably not that bad an idea, because when you cram a computer into an area thinner than a deck of cards, it becomes pretty easy to the non-expert to do more damage than anything else when trying to see what's going on. Without professional diagnostic tools, opening up a broken iPhone is pointless. And data shows that regular people never change their phone batteries anyway, so it's not like it makes a huge difference...
There's also the fact that being a high-end manufacturer making beautiful devices, that these iThings tend to have a longer useful life than cheaper, plastic-y devices by other manufacturers. Even when they upgrade, used iDevices tend to have good resale value and be useful on the second hand market for a while. The same cannot be said with a lot of other electronics.
Even Greenpeace just wrote:
Greenpeace Applauds Apple for Cutting Conflict Minerals, Supply Chain Transparency
"Apple's increased transparency about its suppliers is becoming a hallmark of Tim Cook's leadership at the company. Apple has flexed its muscles in the past to push suppliers to remove hazardous substances from products and provide more renewable energy for data centers, and it is proving the same model can work to reduce the use of conflict minerals. Samsung and other consumer electronics companies should follow Apple's example and map its suppliers, so the industry can exert its collective influence to build devices that are better for people and the planet."
So these are points in Apple's favor, but it's not a free pass. We hope that they will keep making efforts to move in the right direction and correct the things that are still wrong with their business.