How Former EPA Chief Lisa Jackson Can Change Apple’s Culture Of Sustainability

Apple doesn’t have the best record when it comes to the environment, but one of their newest hires is working on it.

How Former EPA Chief Lisa Jackson Can Change Apple’s Culture Of Sustainability

Under the reign of Steve Jobs, Apple was notoriously tight-lipped about its environmental policies. Even after Tim Cook took over as CEO, the company still refused to cater to expectations, opting to ditch Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) certification–a signifier that a product is energy efficient, easy to disassemble, and recyclable–last year, before caving to public pressure and getting certified less than a week later.

Image: Lisa Jackson via Wikipedia

When Cook hired former EPA Chief Lisa Jackson as vice president for environment initiatives this past spring, it seemed as though an era of increased transparency might be dawning. That still could be true.

In her first appearance at a business conference since taking on the Apple role four months ago, Jackson told the audience at VERGE San Francisco that “Tim Cook did not hire Lisa Jackson to be quiet and keep the status quo.”

When Jackson joined Apple, the company was already inching towards greater environmental transparency. Apple has long been attacked by Greenpeace for its use of toxic chemicals; that’s now changing. The company also committed in 2012 to powering its data centers with 100% renewable energy–another move applauded by Greenpeace (the company now claims that all of its data centers are powered by renewables, though it still reportedly has to buy some power from the conventional grid).

During her talk, Jackson was also quick to point out that Apple has been posting lifecycle analyses of its products since 2009. Apple has also made strides in supply chain transparency, though that side of the business is outside of Jackson’s purview.

In Apple’s data centers, Jackson said, the company prefers to generate its own power, like at the solar power plant planned for its Reno, Nevada data center. “If we can’t do that, we look for direct power purchase, and then we look for the highest quality [carbon] credits we can find,” she said.

Jackson also emphasized Apple’s community-oriented approach to building new facilities. “At EPA, I used to shake my head and try to figure out why corporations think you have to talk to the hand,” she said. “I’ve been incredibly impressed with how granular these interactions are.” As far as Jackson knows, there haven’t been any issues with NIMBY locals who don’t want Apple’s data centers in their neighborhoods, which are almost entirely rural.


On the employee side, Jackson believes that sustainability is a “corporate value.” Nonetheless, she said, ” You need a leader, you need a champion, you need a convener, you need a strategist, and you need support from the top.”

Since she’s only four months into the job, Jackson is still familiarizing herself with all the goings-on at Apple. But, she said, “We’re going to talk more, we’re going to be out more, and I would say stay tuned.”

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.