John Paczkowski

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Apple’s Environmental Goal: “Green the Grid” Where It Operates

Apple_renewable_energyApple prides itself on being among the greenest companies in tech. And while “green” in tech is a relative term at best, the company continues to emerge as a leader rather than a laggard on the environmental front, as its latest Environmental Footprint Report demonstrates.

Last year, Apple promised that its North Carolina and California data centers would be coal-free as of February 2013. Today, the company said it had met that pledge. Its facility in Newark, Calif., is now 100 percent powered by clean, renewable energy — mostly wind. And its new Maiden, N.C., data center is powered by a vast 100-acre, 20-megawatt solar photovoltaic facility, bolstered by grid-purchased renewable energy.

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Apple’s Maiden, N.C., solar array


“One hundred percent of the energy needs at Maiden are renewable,” Scott Brodrick, senior director of product marketing at Apple, told AllThingsD. “We switched over to these energy sources in December, and we’re committed to generating over 60 percent of the energy needs at that facility onsite using renewable energy sources that we’ve built. Maiden is completely coal free. It is 100 percent renewable, zero percent coal.”

Apple is generating a significant portion of that renewable energy itself. Brodrick says about 60 percent of Maiden’s power needs are satisfied by Apple’s own renewable power sources. But the goal is 100 percent, and with the advent of iCloud and Apple’s data-heavy services, the company’s energy needs are growing. How does it plan to sate them without falling back on old fossil-fuel resources?

“We’re anticipating our future needs. We’re already building a second solar array at Maiden,” Brodrick said, adding that Apple is doubling up on the fuel cells at that location, as well. “We’ll remain 100 percent renewable at Maiden. And much of that power, at least 60 percent if not more, will be created by on-site renewable energy sources.”

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Apple

Not bad for a company that is sometimes painted as one whose perceived environmental performance far exceeds its actual achievement. But this is an ongoing and difficult effort. If there is a discrepancy there, Apple appears to be closing it. “Seventy-five percent of the energy needs of our corporate offices around the world are met with clean renewable sources. That’s a milestone,” Brodrick said. “That’s a 2x increase over the past year alone.”

Impressive, though undoubtedly there’s far more work to be done. Apple has made this commitment to be a green company. How does it fulfill that commitment if its supply chain doesn’t always share similar goals?

Tough question, and one Apple is still working to answer. Said Brodrick, “Our goal is to green the grid of the areas in which we operate.”

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Apple

Even accounting for PR spin, that’s an admirable goal. What other tech companies are making such claims, let alone delivering on them?

As Apple CEO Tim Cook said at our D10 conference last year, “We’re going to be the most transparent company in the world on … social change, supplier responsibility, on what we’re doing for the environment. We’re going to be the most transparent because we think that transparency is so important in these areas. We hope that if we are transparent, other people will copy what we’re doing. This is an area where I want people to copy us.”

In a statement, Greenpeace praised Apple’s progress, but urged the company to keep pressure on state governments and utilities to support its efforts.

“Apple’s announcement shows that it has made real progress in its commitment to lead the way to a clean energy future,” said Greenpeace International Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook. “Apple’s increased level of disclosure about its energy sources helps customers know that their iCloud will be powered by clean energy sources, not coal. As it keeps growing the cloud, Apple still has major roadblocks to meeting its 100% clean energy commitment in North Carolina, where renewable energy policies are under siege … . To show how it can help remove those roadblocks, Apple should disclose more details about how it will push utilities and state governments to help it achieve its ambitious goal in all of its data center locations.”

Below, video of Apple’s solar efforts in Maiden, N.C.:


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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik