Apple, the technology giant that recently became the biggest company in the world, has not historically been known for its green footprint. In fact, in the 2011 annual Newsweek Green Rankings, a rankings system that compares environmental impact of the biggest companies in developed and emerging world markets, Apple placed 117 out of 500, with a Green Score of 64.7. Other companies like Hewlett Packard and IBM outperformed the company significantly on Newsweeks’ metrics, which, using sustainability information gathered by companies like Sustainalytics, is one of the most commonly used corporate sustainability “green report cards.”
Although Apple hasn’t had the greenest of pasts according to these metrics, Tim Cook, Steve Jobs’ successor, is aiming to change Apple’s environmental reputation and is leading the charge to build two solar farms at the site of the company’s new data center in North Carolina. These solar farms, in addition to a hydrogen-powered fuel cell, are predicted to power 3/5 of the data center; the remaining portion will come from offsite renewable energy sources. Apple expects to sell some of the power it creates back to Duke Energy, the utility that powers North Carolina.
Data centers are significant power suckers yet are often overlooked given we don’t actually see the enormous amount of megabytes they store. Greenpeace was recently quoted as saying “If the [Apple] Cloud were a country, it would have the fifth-largest electricity demand in the world.” And demand continues to grow: “from 2005 to 2010, energy used by data centers across the world increased by more than 50%.”
Most of this power traditionally comes from cheap coal-fired power plants or from nuclear power, but Apple is trying to branch out of business as usual and lead the way to a greener energy supply. The North Carolina data center is only one example; product lifecycle, manufacturing and supply chain issues remain, not only with Apple, but with other global companies. Yet in spite of the poor Newsweek rankings from last year, under Tim Cook, Apple appears to be changing its tune from red to green. It will be interesting to see how Apple performs on the 2012 report.
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