Siri, which is the greenest tech company in the world?

Thinner and… er, greener.
Thinner and… er, greener.
Image: AP Photo/Thibault Camus
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Those iconic Apple Macs, iPhones and iPads now come in green.

Or they might as well do. The target of a long-running campaign by Greenpeace, Apple for years resisted disclosing its carbon footprint or the environmental impact of the tens of millions of digital gadgets. But yesterday it released its annual environmental impact report, which shows that secrecy-obsessed Apple has gone in just a few short years from an environmental pariah to a paragon of sustainability—and that being green and being successful can go together.

The company calculated that in 2012 it emitted an estimated 30.9 million tonnes (34.1 million tons) of greenhouse gases. The manufacturing and use of its gadgets accounted for 98% of that spew (61% from production, 5% from transportation, 30% from consumer use and 2% from recycling.) The remaining 2% of emissions comes from the company’s data centers and other operations. But since 2008, its emissions per dollar of revenue are down 21.5%, even as its revenues have grown nearly fivefold and its profits nearly ninefold.

Here’s how Apple does it:

  • Removing toxic materials like lead, mercury, brominated flame retardants, phthalates and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).
  • Using sustainable materials. Those water bottles Apple execs carry with them on stage during product launches? They now are recycled and repolymerized to make Macbook Pro fan assemblies. A component of the Airport Express WiFi transmitter is made from biopolymers from industrial rapeseed (better known as canola).
  • Shrinking product packaging. The packaging for the iPhone 5 is 28% smaller than the box for the original iPhone. As well as reducing waste, Apple says this allows it to fit up to 60% more iPhones on a shipping pallet, which means fewer flights from China are needed.

“Take AC power cords,” the report’s authors wrote. “For several years, Apple worked closely with material suppliers to develop PVC-free and phthalate-free custom compounds that met high standards for durability, safety, and environmental impact. We then worked with regulators around the world to validate and certify PVC-free power cords, even in regions where standards did not exist.”

Apple says all its data centers now run on 100% renewable energy. The company made headlines last year when it said it would power its new data center in Maiden, North Carolina—home to voice-recognition app Siri and other cloud services—with the largest privately owned solar array and fuel-cell farm. Yesterday the company revealed it is building a second 20-megawatt photovoltaic array that will be completed later this year.

At its other data centers, Apple buys renewable energy from wind farms, solar power plants and hydro and geothermal facilities through deals with local utilities.

So what does Greenpeace think of Apple’s efforts? (Last year, Greenpeace gave Apple a failing grade in a report titled “How Clean Is Your Cloud” and dinged the company for not disclosing the energy consumption of its Maiden facility.)

Gary Cook, a senior policy analyst at Greenpeace in San Francisco and a leader in the Apple campaign, did not immediately return a request for comment today. But in statement Greenpeace said the company has made “real progress.” But it still wants Apple to lobby North Carolina’s dominant utility, coal-dependent Duke Energy, to promote renewable energy. And it wants Apple to make direct investments in renewable energy projects, as Google has done.