In its quest to run entirely on renewable energy, Apple announced on Thursday that it will invest in solar power in China and preserve forests that make environmentally friendly paper. The 40MW solar project in China will produce more than the amount of energy consumed by Apple’s 19 corporate offices and 21 retail stores in China and Hong Kong.
Already all of Apple’s data centers are powered exclusively by renewable energy. This wasn’t always the case, however, and Apple (along with other tech companies) drew criticism in the past for using toxic materials in manufacturing and powering its data centers from coal. The campaigns of groups like Greenpeace against those practices helped spur Apple to drop them, and now things have progressed so much that Greenpeace even issued a statement on Thursday praising the Chinese solar project.
While the 40MW Chinese solar plant more than covers Apple’s local needs, it is small compared to the 130MW per year that Apple will get from the First Solar farm in Monterey, California, in a deal it reached in February for $848 million. Describing that project, CEO Tim Cook said “it’s enough power for almost 60,000 California homes, and it’s enough to provide renewable energy for all of our new campus,” as well as all its other California offices, a large data center, and the 52 Apple retail stores in the state. Apple also owns two 20MW solar plants in North Carolina, with an additional one under development in that state, as well one in Nevada and one in Arizona.
The company also pledged an unspecified amount of money on Thursday to the Conservation Fund for the purchase of 36,000 acres of timberland in Maine and North Carolina. The non-profit group will resell that land to commercial interests under legally binding terms that require future owners to preserve the forest and follow environmentally sound principles for cutting and replanting trees, according to A.P. Already two-thirds of Apple’s paper packaging comes from recycled material, and these forests will help the company reach its goal of using sustainable timber for the rest of the packing materials.
These much-hyped green initiatives are being done for environmental sustainability and the resulting boost in eco-conscious consumer loyalty, but most importantly it also saves a significant amount of money (although the exact amounts have not been released). Discussing the savings from the California solar deal, Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president for environmental initiatives, said that “the difference in what we’re going to pay for the power through this deal and what we would pay commercially is hundreds of millions of dollars.”
In the past few months other companies like Amazon, and Facebook have also committed to using 100% renewable energy for their data centers. In fact, Google now has over $1.5 billion worth of agreements to fund renewable energy projects, with a capacity of over 2.5GW. These tech companies have enormous revenues, and their increasing investments in renewable energy are helping the solar and wind industries to sustain themselves.
High-tech and sustainability can thus go hand-in-hand, if not in the same facilities then offset elsewhere. Expect more companies to follow suit.