Apple said it had reached its goal of powering all its facilities with 100 percent green energy, garnering headlines about the company’s commitment to the environment.
Apple’s announcement came a few days after Google, which uses way more energy, had met its own 100 percent green energy goal. Both companies have been working towards relying exclusively on green energy for years, part of a larger push by tech companies to become more eco-conscience.
Each announcement came with a huge caveat — green energy goals were met through purchasing credits.
Apple and Google are hooked up to the grid like all other multinational companies, meaning there’s no way for them to guarantee the electricity they receive was generated by wind turbines or solar panels. So, yes, both companies still rely on fossil fuels to keep their servers humming.
Renewable Energy Credits, or RECs, are used by companies to keep track of their green energy purchases. Companies can claim to “offset” their use of fossil fuels by funding additions of green energy to the grid.
With the world still getting most electricity from fossil fuels, it’s impossible for Apple and Google to not use coal, oil and gas while connected to the grid.
Google, for starters, said it had “matched” its actual energy usage with green energy purchases, pretty much all from solar and wind farms. Google’s Urs Hölzle admitted in a blog post, “[I]t’s not yet possible to ‘power’ a company of our scale by 100 percent renewable energy.”
It’s true that for every kilowatt-hour of energy we consume, we add a matching kilowatt-hour of renewable energy to a power grid somewhere. But that renewable energy may be produced in a different place, or at a different time, from where we’re running our data centers and offices. What’s important to us is that we are adding new clean energy sources to the electrical system, and that we’re buying that renewable energy in the same amount as what we’re consuming, globally and on an annual basis.
Apple also met its 100 percent green energy goal through purchasing RECs, but Fast Company reported the iPhone maker “has been very consistent about keeping its RECs closely associated with actual energy.” Though that’s not possible everywhere in the world.
To its credit, Apple does try its best to purchase RECs from facilities it helped build, usually near company facilities. “For the last couple of years we’ve been close to 100 percent,” said former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, Apple’s environment czar.
“It’s just four percent more, but it’s four percent done the right way,” Jackson told Fast Company. “So this announcement feels like a classic Apple product release. Like our products, we sweat the details, we have pretty strict standards, and we prefer to wait and meet our standards than to rush and make a claim.”
There’s another caveat with Apple’s announcement.
Apple relies on suppliers and contractors for the really energy-intensive processes that go into its phones, tablets and computers. Apple’s suppliers aren’t covered by its 100 percent green energy goal.
Apple got 23 of its suppliers to sign their own 100 percent green energy pledges, but the company’s biggest supplier, Foxconn, has not signed such a pledge.
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