Apple the company runs on 100 percent renewable energy. The subcontractors Apple works with throughout its supply chain do not.
This isn’t to take away from the good news. What Apple has done is very impressive. But the reality goes to show that even the aggressive efforts of one of the wealthiest companies on the planet aren’t enough to tackle carbon pollution alone.
“It’s really good news because it seems pretty clear they’re not just faking it with credits,” Mark Jacobson, a renewable energy expert at Stanford, told Earther. “There is actually new wind or solar assigned for each data center, whether they have it on a rooftop or paid for a new power plant.”
In other words, Apple has ensured that it’s either installed enough renewable energy on its own, or paid for enough projects to come online, to meet its power needs. Apple is still connected to the grid in many cases, which means that it can’t say all the energy being used by its stores, data centers, and fancy offices is coming directly from clean energy, though.
“Some people would say they’re still getting dirty electricity from grid but the fact is they’ve contributed to actual displacement of fossil fuels (energy sources),” Jacobson said.
All told, the company announced it’s responsible for 626 megawatts of renewable generating capacity. Kevin Haley, a marketing manager at the Rocky Mountain Institute, told Earther that’s enough to power 440,000 American homes.
Apple also said there are 15 other projects under construction, that when finished, will bring the company’s total generating capacity to 1.4 gigawatts, or more than double its current capacity.
All of this shows Apple has made a major commitment to clean energy. But it also means there’s a ton of work the company still needs to do to address its supply chain, which extends a long way from One Infinity Loop’s sleek glass facade. Those rare metals are aren’t going to mine themselves—and extracting them is considered one of the world’s dirtiest businesses.
“While this is an impressive amount of clean energy for a single company, Apple’s supply chain uses even more energy, much of which is supplied by fossil fuels today,” Haley said. “To take its sustainability commitment one step further, Apple has pledged to support as much as 4 gigawatts of new renewable energy, by leveraging its supply chain companies.”
So far, the company has commitments from 23 of its suppliers to transition to all renewables, all the time. That includes some of its big glass, aluminum case, battery and antenna suppliers, according to an update from last April. The goal is for all this to come online by 2020, which ain’t that far away.
And there’s still shipping—one of the dirtiest industries in the world—recycling, and mining to deal with. But with much of Apple’s manufacturing in China, which is mopping up in the clean energy race globally, there’s a good chance the company could realize its vision on the manufacturing side.
How Apple achieves this could serve as a blueprint for how other huge companies who outsource their manufacturing can do the same. In our increasingly corporatized world, Apple and other giants can also have an outsize impact on policy. Witness the We Are Still In group, which includes 1,700 companies (including Apple) committed to meeting the U.S. Paris Agreement commitment. This is good news for the planet, even if it’s being driven by a desire to still have customers around to buy the latest iPhone.
“Large, multinational companies also have opportunities to engage in policy decision-making and weigh in on regulatory issues that can help make renewables easier for businesses of any size to adopt,” Haley said. “The ‘greening of the grid’ is a bigger picture exercise that corporates are increasingly a part of.”
Maybe Apple can address the world’s mounting piles of e-waste next.