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Green is in, says Tim Cook: Here's what Apple is doing to tackle climate change

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Apple is reiterating its commitment to protect the environment, saying that it wants to be "one of the pebbles in the pond that creates the ripple," referring to its desire to be one of the forerunners in the climate change battle that other technology industry players will wish to emulate.

Speaking at Climate Week NYC on Tuesday, Apple CEO Tim Cook discussed with Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, his company's efforts to preserve the planet and encourage other companies to engage in environment-friendly business practices. Foremost on Apple's agenda is the effort to reduce the company's carbon footprint, especially in the new spaceship headquarters that Apple is constructing just a mile east of its current Infinite Loop office in Cupertino.

"We're building a new headquarters that will, I think, be the greenest building on the planet," Cook said (video). "It'll be a center for innovation, and it's something clearly our employees want and we want."

Cook also said that Apple has already taken action to reduce its footprint, having already shifted 100 percent of the power used in its data centers to renewable sources, include solar energy and hydroelectric energy. In fact, Apple owns the largest private solar farm in the United States, Cook said, with the facility able to generate power that can be used for 14,000 homes. Cook also said that Apple's corporate offices are 94 percent powered by renewables, and "we're chipping away to try to get at the last 6 percent."

"People told us it couldn't be done and that it couldn't happen, but we did it," Cook said. It's great for the environment and it's also good for economics. It's both."

Asked what he believed was needed to improve the technology industry's contribution to the fight against global warming, the Apple CEO said companies need to be more transparent about the effects they have on the environment, which will in turn allow customers to make better buying decisions and "vote with their dollar" for those companies who have "their act together." Cook touted Apple's environmental checklist, which is released with every new product launched, to show consumers that their devices are recyclable, energy-efficient and toxin-free.

Also of primary concern for Apple is its ability to extend its efforts down to its supply chain, which is rooted largely in the developing world. The company has been criticized by environmental advocates for its failure to improve working conditions and its environmental footprint in specific facilities in China, with one facility found to have been dumping toxic wastes into surrounding rivers. In response, Apple hired Lisa Jackson, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator, to spearhead its environmental efforts.

"It's dirty and detailed work," said Cook. "It's rolling your sleeves up. It's not esoteric and theory. It's real work and real projects."

Environmental non-government organization Greenpeace ranked (pdf) Apple as one of the top electronics goods companies in its Guide to Greener Electronics. The company garnered a score of 4.6 out of 10 and ranked sixth behind WiPro, HP, Nokia, Acer and Dell. Other smartphone makers Samsung, Sony and Lenovo ranked seventh, eighth and ninth respectively.

The report praised Apple for being one of few companies that are willing to disclose their carbon footprints but also said Apple could have done more to improve its short product life cycles and address the use of the toxic element beryllium in its manufacturing process.

"By pledging Apple to power with 100 percent renewable energy and making clear that climate leadership is central to what Apple does, Tim Cook is setting a powerful example to the business community," says senior analyst Gary Cook at Greenpeace.  

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