Apple’s Carbon Footprint Balancing Act: A Talk with Lisa Jackson

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Lisa Jackson is the VP of Apple’s Environmental Initiatives and she formerly served as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, before joining Apple’s executive team in 2013. Since her coming on board of the company’s projects and initiatives, Lisa Jackson has become more and more visible to the public and actively involved in major debates over the role and potential of green policies and approaches. Her last much promoted appearance was the Brainstorm Green conference organized by Fortune, during which Apple’s carbon footprint came up and was discussed, along with the company’s future plans of reducing the potentially harmful impact its activity can have of the environment.

The world found out or was reminded, on the occasion of this conference, that Apple has achieved some pretty impressive carbon footprint reductions on certain areas of its business. One of the business sectors that can be proud of such a reduction is, among others, the Mac, which had its carbon footprint reduced by 27 percent over the last 8 years, and is now powering most of its plants and facilities by using renewable energy sources.

Overall, Apple seems to be investing considerable effort lately in becoming a more likeable and ethical company, which isn’t something that many similar large corporations can boast with. For example, the company’s efforts to protect user privacy were also noticed and appreciated, both in the public and in experts’ reports (like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, also known as EFF). Adding the strive to use a greener approach in its production to the combo as well seems to be a sure-fire way of making sure it won’t be involved in much critique or controversy over any ethical issues any time soon. If the company shows the utmost care and concern for their users’ comfort, privacy and dignity, and if it has reduced its carbon footprint considerably as well, what more can we ask for, right? It definitely means they’re some of the good guys.

Well, yes and no (or at least a reluctant yes) would be a more appropriate response. While the company’s efforts are obviously welcome and to be encouraged further, the public should never forget that a great part of any good news presented at this level, and where there are huge stakes at play as well, is good old corporate PR, or, simply put, mystification. For example, at the recent conference where Lisa Jackson advertised the company’s eco policies and results almost very efficiently, she also had to face some pretty uncomfortable questions, especially coming from Rick Ridgeway, Patagonia’s environmental chief. In short, he pretty much asked her directly why Apple boasts of its carbon footprint reduction on a few individual projects, when the overall carbon footprint of the company is basically skyrocketing. Her response hinted, as politely as possible, that Apple is only interested in improving its eco output as long as it doesn’t hinder with sales, because having an approach that includes producing less would be a “lack of imagination”.

The insights offered by Lisa Jackson as Apple’s spokesperson on all matters green related are valuable not necessarily as what they reveal, actually, about the company’s activity plans (which is not that much), but as a hint that Apple at least takes its public image and the importance of protecting the environment seriously. We may not know a great deal more now about exactly the company’s activity and future development plans and how much they will actually protect the environment or achieve an almost neglect-able carbon footprint, but at least we know that they care enough about the subject to feel the need of transmitting reassuring messages. Or at least that they understand that the public generally cares about these business and industry implications way more than it used to care only a few decades ago.