News Column

Green Apple? iPhone-Maker Touts Shrinking Carbon Footprint

March 23, 2013

Patrick May, San Jose Mercury News

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Apple (AAPL) gave itself an A-plus Thursday for what it calls a dramatically improved environmental performance, boasting that its corporate facilities around the world now get 75 percent of their power from renewable sources such as solar and wind, up from 35 percent two years ago.

While noting that the company has also made solid progress in shrinking its carbon footprint by lowering the amount of power its products require, the report focuses on the work Apple has done in harnessing renewable energy to power its offices and server farms.

At the top of the list is the massive data center in Maiden, N.C., which Apple says is now operated solely on renewable energy created by the company on-site or obtained from a local source.

"Several of our largest and most energy-intensive locations are now running entirely on renewables, including our offices at One Infinite Loop, in Austin and Cork, Ireland, " said Scott Brodrick with Apple's worldwide product marketing group. "We're especially proud of our progress at our data center in Maiden, which we said at the start would be a model of green building and we've followed through on that. So when you download an iTunes song, for example, it's coming from a facility that's powered 100 percent on renewable energy."

Apple has been criticized

in the past by environmentalists who felt the iPhone maker was not doing enough to keep its product line as clean and green as it should. Last year, for example, Greenpeace went so far as to call Apple the "dirtiest" of the technology giants because of the way it powers its vast data centres. Greenpeace spokesman Dave Pomerantz at the time said, "Apple right now is falling behind companies like Google (GOOG) and Facebook, who are taking a leadership role on this issue. It's a shame that a company that built its reputation on thinking differently is now behind the curve."

On Thursday, though, Greenpeace applauded Apple's success in getting greener.

Gary Cook, an IT analyst for the group, said, "There's a lot to be pleased about in this report. The information they put out today shows that Apple has made some real progress and renewed its commitment to an even greener future."

But Cook cautioned that Apple, as well as other tech companies, needs to get a better handle on how to deal with the growing amount of e-waste around the world from its products, including the iPhones and iPads Apple has been selling by the millions.

"This is an ongoing challenge for these companies because there's a lot of planned obsolescence in their products, so they could help by giving the devices a longer shelf life," he said.

Analyst Matthew Feinstein with Lux Research agreed. "While Apple has done well with its product recycling programs, the growing problem of e-waste is something they'll have to deal with, and no one has quite yet figured out how to come to terms with that."

Apple's Brodrick, in an interview with this newspaper Thursday, defended Apple's progress, most notably at the Maiden plant, which in the past year has gone from meeting 60 percent of its energy needs with renewables to 100 percent.

"And in December we turned the switch on two renewable energy sources (in Maiden) that we've created ourselves on-site, including a solar photovoltaic array and a fuel-cell installation," he said. "And both of these are now the largest non-utility-owned renewable energy sources of their kind in the United States."

Brodrick said the company has also made much progress in reducing its carbon footprint by doing things like making products thinner and lighter to reduce the amount of packaging required.

"We've said for years that making the most energy-efficient products is the best way to innovate," Brodrick said, "and we've managed to lower our carbon footprint by lowering the power consumption of customers using our products across the board by 40 percent since 2008."

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(c)2013 the San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)

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