January 14th, 2015


Vice President, Environmental Initiatives, Apple

Former Chair, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)


When you turn on your iPad, answer your iPhone or upload music to the iCloud, chances are you’re not thinking about your carbon footprint.  But Apple is.  Every time you interact with their products, “we’re calculating the carbon emissions for that,” says Lisa Jackson, VP of Environmental Initiatives at Apple.   “And we're trying constantly to find ways to first make sure that it uses as little energy as possible, because the cleanest energy is the energy you never use.”  

This environmental mindfulness and innovation permeates every aspect of the company, says Jackson.  When it needed renewable power for a data center in North Carolina, Apple built its own solar farm nearby. CEO Tim Cook has boasted that its new headquarters in Cupertino will be the greenest corporate campus in the world.  And the company pays close attention to the manufacturing practices of its suppliers. “Apple has done a pretty good job, I think the best in the industry, of really looking at what our entire life cycle analysis, carbon footprint is… we take responsibility for the carbon emissions of our entire supply chain.”  

“You're looking at a company that's 94% clean energy in all of its corporate facilities,” Jackson continues. But she admits that that’s just the beginning. There are still changes to be made throughout the industry, and Apple wants to lead the way. “Apple has a lot of responsibility, to not only show it can be done, to talk about how it's done, and then to stand up on the side of saying “climate change is a real problem.”   We're not interested in having discussions about that, we want to talk about the solutions.”

Rajendra Pachauri, who chairs the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says staying ahead of the curve on environmental issues has always made good corporate sense.  “If you look at the history of businesses anywhere in the world, it's those businesses which had a vision and that were able to foresee the future that actually turned out to be far more successful than others that only worried about the profits in the next quarter,” he says.  “When the public demands companies to be more responsible in terms of protecting this planet, I'm sure that will also translate into value in the stock market.”

That may be enough to motivate many corporate leaders to make cleaner, greener business decisions.  But for Jackson, a former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, environmental responsibility is more than good business.  “For me, it’s the moral issue of our times.  It wraps in justice and human rights and poverty and the way the world will be for my children and their children… when you come to work, you don't lose your humanity.”

To illustrate the point, Jackson shared a personal story with the audience. “I grew up in New Orleans, Ninth Ward,” she began.  “My mom's birthday is August 27th, and I had gone down to see her.”  It was 2005, the day before Hurricane Katrina unleashed its fury.  Jackson and her mother were fortunate to get out of the city alive, grabbing only a few possessions.  “And I remember as we drove off, I went, "bye house," as a joke,” she recalled. “And although the house was still there arguably after Katrina, you can’t imagine … what a house looks like when it soaks underwater for two weeks or so.”

Unfortunately, scientific evidence points toward further devastation to come, warns Pachauri. “I certainly can't scientifically link any single event to human-induced climate change,” he adds, “but observations going back over time clearly show that the intensity and frequency of these extreme events is on the increase.  And if we don't do anything about this problem, then clearly these are going to become far more difficult to manage.

“So looking at some of the most vulnerable regions in the world and the fact that they are inhabited by some of the poorest sections of human society, there is obviously a moral dimension to the problem.”

And it’s not just hurricanes, heat waves and other disasters that threaten those underserved communities, adds Pachauri.   He warns that unless we take steps to mitigate global warming, sea level could rise nearly a meter by century’s end. “So you can imagine there are parts of the world which are barely a meter above sea level, and well before that storm surges, coastal flooding and extreme events are going to make it impossible for people to live in these locations.”

It may be hard for most of us to fathom such destruction, which can seem worlds away.  But not for Lisa Jackson.  “Once you've gone through any kind of disaster,” she reflects, “you can't hear those stories ever again on the radio about a flood in some distant place the same way.”


- Anny Celsi
January 14, 2015
Photos by Ed Ritger
The Commonwealth Club of California