Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Guest Post: Apple Makes Clean Power Pledge in China

[The upcoming Paris climate summit provides a good opportunity to look at what some leading companies are doing about climate change.  This guest post is from Beth Kelly.]

Current research indicates that consumer concerns over climate change are on the rise. Because the demand for consumer goods plays such a significant role in the generation of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, the steps taken by massive retailers to decrease their carbon footprint are highly impactful.  From here on out, all businesses should commit to sustainable operations and clean energy solutions whenever possible.  

The EPA has stated that the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. is created by the burning fossil fuels for heat, electricity and transportation. Therefore, a critical first step in lowering a company’s emissions is finding out how just how much carbon it produces from office buildings, data centers, factories and transportation fleets along the supply chain. Many large technology companies have been first in line to “commit” to environmentally-friendly business practices, with Apple making apparent efforts to spearhead the movement. 

Today China is counted as being the world’s largest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions. Foxconn, Apple’s main manufacturing partner, is located in the country, as are the majority of its other suppliers. In 2011, the New York Times reported that these firms were allegedly dumping toxic metals and polluted waste into neighboring communities. Like almost all multinational companies outsourcing to China, the tech giant has traditionally disregarded environmental concerns in an effort to maximize profits and placate corrupt local governments. With one of the worst environmental records of any developing country, reports have cited that 1.6 million Chinese die every year because of polluted air quality.

But now, the company seems to have realized the economic and environmental imperative to “go green.” Apple recently announced that they are starting two innovative programs in China to reduce their carbon footprint. First, they are encouraging their suppliers to become more ecologically sustainable. To do this, the company has stated a plan to set up two gigawatts of clean energy with their manufacturing partners. Foxconn is pledging to contribute 400 megawatts of solar power to the effort, in order to effectively produce as much renewable energy as their factory consumes while making iPhones.

Second, Apple will build over 200 megawatts of solar projects spread throughout China. The installation will be capable of powering more than 265 thousand homes in the country for one year. Working with Lisa Jackson, former head of the EPA, has helped Apple develop additional ties with the World Wildlife Fund and secure 1 million acres of forests in China for preservation. Apple is confident that putting these programs in place will help avoid 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution between now and 2020.

According to a recent BBC report, China has been working hard to commit to further clean energy endeavors. The report claims that the Chinese government is now investing as much money in clean energy as the U.S. and Europe combined. The BBC also reports that the head of the International Energy Agency has openly stated that China is actually the largest international wind power market. However, according to Duke Energy, China still emits nearly double the amount of greenhouse gases as the United States – accounting for about 30 percent of global emissions. Given its pivotal position on the world stage, China’s decision to invest in clean energy by cooperating with Apple represents another crucial step forward.

Apple isn’t the only company that is publically improving their emissions record. Google, for example, is planning to acquire a stake in Africa’s largest wind farm. When completed in 2017, the Lake Turkana wind project in northern Kenya will produce over 300 megawatts of energy that will power up to two million homes. Google has already made similar renewable power investments on the continent, namely the Jasper solar project located in South Africa.

The public move by Apple and Google to invest in massive clean energy projects strategically coincides with the upcoming U.N climate conference in December. One of the main discussion points during the upcoming Paris COP21 talks will be about reducing global climate change. Therefore, Apple and Google will likely enjoy very positive PR coverage regarding their (newly) sustainable business practices.

These recent clean energy investments by industry leading companies means different things for consumers. While global clean energy practices and investments will - hopefully - serve to moderate the effects of climate change, this may result in increased operation and labor costs that will ultimately translate to higher prices. Still, businesses must incorporate actionable clean energy strategies into their social corporate responsibility (CSR) policies if they hope to compete in a carbon-constrained future. 

 [Beth Kelly is a Midwestern blogger from Lansing, Michigan. A graduate of DePaul University, she’s passionate about covering updates in the clean technology space and other innovations driving the renewable energy movement forward. She is a strong advocate of the “maker movement” and self-sufficient, green living. You can find her on Twitter @bkelly_88 ]

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