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Alexis Petru headshot

Apple’s Environmental Report Reveals Major Accomplishments, More Work To Be Done

By Alexis Petru

Apple’s carbon footprint shrank 3 percent from 2012 to 2013. It's a modest decline, but this is the first time the tech giant has seen a year-over-year decrease in greenhouse gas emissions since it started tracking them in 2009.

Despite this and other accomplishments detailed in Apple's 2014 Environmental Responsibility Report released this week, the company acknowledged it has a long way to go to reduce its environmental impact, including tackling emissions from its manufacturing partners and addressing its recent increase in water consumption.

The greenhouse gas emissions from Apple’s energy consumption fell by almost a third over the last three years, the report found, even though the tech giant’s overall energy use jumped 42 percent during the same time. These avoided emissions are equivalent to taking 75,100 cars off the road or powering 49,100 homes for one year, according to the report.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company said its investments in clean energy were responsible for the impressive drop in its energy-related carbon footprint: All of Apple’s data centers – which run services like Siri, the iTunes and App stores, and Maps – run on 100-percent renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and geothermal power.

“So every time a song is downloaded from iTunes, an app is installed from the Mac App Store or a book is downloaded from iBooks, the energy Apple uses is provided by nature,” the reports authors wrote.

As of this year, Apple powers 145 of its U.S. retail stores and all of its Australian stores with 100-percent renewable energy, according to the report. Five of its corporate campuses, including its Cupertino, Calif. headquarters, also run on 100-percent renewable energy. Apple is currently building a new Cupertino campus and said the new facility will also operate on 100-percent clean energy and be ultra-energy efficient, using natural ventilation for 75 percent of the year.

In addition to cleaning up its energy consumption, the maker of the iPhone is reducing greenhouse gas emissions from its employees’ commutes. Its commute alternatives program – which includes transit subsidies, biodiesel buses that shuttle employees to and from work, and carpooling incentives – provided more than 1 million trips last year and cut carbon emissions equivalent to taking more than 15,000 cars off the road for one year.

The company is also addressing what happens to its products at the end of their useful life, reporting that every Apple retail store in the world now takes back its devices for free and recycles them responsibly. Since 2010, Apple has collected 85 percent of the total weight of the products it sold seven years earlier, the report said.

But Apple’s Environmental Responsibility Report also called out challenges the company needs to work on. Apple’s water consumption climbed from 20 cubic meters per employee in 2012 to 29 cubic meters in 2013, the report said, due to construction of the new Cupertino campus, the addition of new server rooms and testing equipment in existing facilities, and general company expansion worldwide. The tech giant said it has established a clean water program to tackle its high water use and keep its suppliers on board with its conservation efforts.

Another obstacle the report noted is the carbon emissions from Apple’s manufacturing partners – which make up the largest portion of the company’s overall carbon footprint. While Apple said in a blog post that it is “committed to addressing” these emissions, the report is noticeably silent on ways the company will clean up operations at the notoriously-polluting Chinese factories it contracts with.

On this year’s Earth Day, Apple announced it would provide consumers with more frequent updates on the company’s progress towards greater sustainability. The new Environmental Responsibility Report fulfills that promise and demonstrates how far the tech icon has come in its environmental initiatives and corporate transparency in recent years. Previously lambasted by environmental groups like Greenpeace for lagging behind other companies in sustainability and failing to disclose the environmental impact of its operations, Apple has proven it is making strides in the right direction – though there is still more work to be done.

“Apple is still far from perfect – it has issues that it must address throughout its supply chains for materials, energy and labor, including in China,” Kumi Naidoo, Greenpeace International’s executive director, wrote in a blog post in April, “but by being so open about its sustainability goals, Apple is indicating a willingness to be held accountable for its impact.”

Image credit: Apple

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for Bay Area cities and counties. Connect with Alexis on Twitter at @alexispetru

Alexis Petru headshot

Passionate about both writing and sustainability, Alexis Petru is freelance journalist and communications consultant based in the San Francisco Bay Area whose work has appeared on Earth911, Huffington Post and Patch.com. Prior to working as a writer, she coordinated environmental programs for various Bay Area cities and counties for seven years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from UC Berkeley.

Read more stories by Alexis Petru