Apple announced on Wednesday night that it is significantly increasing its solar power investments in China in order to address the energy consumption coming from its supply chain.
The solar power expansion comes in the form of two new initiatives, including greater investments in solar power throughout China as well as specific projects at the company’s facilities. The new projects will eventually include a total of 2 gigawatts worth of solar power installations for Apple’s Chinese factories, according to a company press release.
According to Apple, these installations would have an impact equivalent to reducing manmade greenhouse gas emissions by about 20 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, the main global warming pollutant, by 2020.
The announcement, made by CEO Tim Cook in Beijing, indicates that Apple is continuing its push to address global warming and other environmental concerns at the same time it seeks to repair its image after harsh criticism from environmentalists and others regarding the company’s dirty supply chain.
“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and the time for action is now,” Cook said in a press release. “We believe passionately in leaving the world better than we found it and hope that many other suppliers, partners and other companies join us in this important effort.”
In April, Apple announced two solar power projects in China, for a total of 40 megawatts of power production. The company now says it has completed installation of those solar panels in Sichuan Province, bringing it to be effectively carbon neutral when it comes to its 19 corporate offices and 24 retail stores in China.
However, the big test comes next: greening Apple’s manufacturing facilities. According to Apple, 72% of the company’s carbon footprint is in manufacturing, much of which occurs in China
Apple plans to build more than 200 megawatts of solar projects in the northern, eastern and southern grid regions of China, which will produce the equivalent of the energy used by more than 265,000 Chinese homes in a year and will help offset the energy used in Apple’s supply chain.
Much of the electricity currently produced in China comes from coal, which is the most carbon-intensive fuel.
Apple is also launching a new, more innovative initiative that it says is aimed at driving its manufacturing partners to become more energy efficient and to use clean energy for their manufacturing operations. Apple will partner with suppliers in China, including Foxconn, to install more than 2 gigawatts of new clean energy in the coming years.
Apple’s largest Chinese supplier is Foxconn, which has been the target of media investigations and audits by Apple to assess worker abuses and pollution coming from those factories.
Apple announced that, as part of the 2 gigawatt solar expansion, Foxconn will construct 400 megawatts worth of solar power by 2018, which would generate enough energy to power the company’s Xenju factory, where the final production of the iPhone takes place. The first solar installations will take place in the Henan Province.
Foxconn has committed to generate as much clean energy as its Zhengzhou factory consumes during the final production of the iPhone, Apple claims.
As part of its solar program with its suppliers, Apple says it will provide support through regulatory guidance, hands-on assistance and other ways to ensure the suppliers stay on track toward meeting the energy goals.
“We are excited to embark on this initiative with Apple. Our companies share a vision for driving sustainability and I hope that this renewable energy project will serve as a catalyst for continued efforts to promote a greener ecosystem in our industry and beyond,” said Terry Gou, founder and CEO of Foxconn Technology Group, in a press release.
Cook, for his part, has described tackling global warming as a “core value” of the company, and in his time as CEO, he has scaled up the technology firm’s use of renewables to the point where it now powers all of its data centers as well as its U.S. operations by solar, wind and geothermal resources.
Other tech companies are moving in similar directions, including Google, which just this weekannounced a new wind power investment in Africa.
And on Monday, Facebook was among 81 companies that made climate change commitments as part of a White House-led effort to engage corporations in the fight against manmade global warming.
Apple sees its efforts as going beyond others, at least so far, when it comes to supply chain improvements in particular.
Others, including former critics, agree that Apple has made significant progress. A report that Greenpeace, the environmental group, released earlier this year on the environmental impacts of the tech industry gave Apple high marks for its transparency about its energy use and for its renewable energy goals, among other factors.
At the same time as Apple is moving to make its supply chain in China green, the Chinese government is embarking on an ambitious plan to dramatically scale up renewable energy production throughout the country. China is currently the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases, including carbon dioxide.