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Apple details carbon footprint, environmental progress

Dan Moren | Feb. 22, 2012
Apple has published an overview of its carbon footprint for 2011, breaking down how factors such as manufacturing, transportation, product use, recycling, and its facilities influence its effect on the environment.

Apple even tracks the energy consumption of its employees' commutes. In 2011, the company says it saw a 61 percent increase year over year in the number of employees using the company's Commute Alternatives program. That includes Apple's biodiesel commuter coaches, which served more than 1100 employees per day, an increase over 900 employees per day in 2010.

Other achievements for the year 2011 include the company's elimination of restore DVDs for Macs and the conversion of iTunes gift cards to 100 percent recyclable paper. And there was the introduction of the Mac App Store, which helps reduce the company's carbon footprint by providing digital downloads of software without the need for packaging, transportation, and recycling. But, of course, that comes with a tradeoff--making software available online means that Apple needs to invest more in the infrastructure of its server side capabilities, specifically by building out data centers.

Maiden voyage

Those data centers are a not insignificant part of the Apple's environmental footprint, in particular the company's much talked about massive new facility in Maiden, North Carolina. While much of the information in Apple's yearly report is an update of figures that it's reported in the past, the information on the Maiden data center, constructed last year, provides some tantalizing new details.

For one thing, Apple says the data center earned the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. That score signifies that the building has earned at least 80 points on the 100-point LEED scale, which measures a building's environmental impact over categories such as sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.

In addition, the company plans to focus heavily on renewable energy with the new data center, stating that it will build the nation's largest end user-owned solar array and the largest non-utility fuel cell installation in the U.S.

Apple goes into further detail about the Maiden data center in its page on environmental progress, explaining its use of a chilled water storage system to improve cooling efficiency, outside air cooling, a cool-roof design that provides solar reflectivity, high-efficiency LED lighting hooked up to motion sensors, and a construction process that used 14 percent recycled materials and diverted 93 percent of construction waste from landfills.

While the Maiden data center was the subject of intense scrutiny during its construction, it was officially unveiled to the public during Apple's 2011 Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, to illustrate then CEO Steve Jobs's point that Apple was serious about its commitment to iCloud.


A more public commitment to the environment has been an Apple priority since 2007, when Jobs penned the open letter "A Greener Apple." In it, he fought back against criticisms by environmental organizations such as Greenpeace, which had taken the company to task for not doing enough to reduce the use of toxic substances in its products. Jobs said the company would soon be ahead of its competitors in that realm, and promised improving its recycling goal--a milestone it ended up beating a year ahead of schedule.


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