From episode 188 of The Talk Show, with special guest Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives. Gently edited for clarity.
Transcription by Serenity Caldwell.
Gruber: Hey there. It’s me, John Gruber, host of The Talk Show. And I’m here to do a little introduction for what is a very special episode. I have an interview with Lisa Jackson, vice president at Apple of Environment, Policy — pretty much everything Apple does with regard to the environment.
I think it went great; I think it was a fascinating interview. She’s super smart, super funny. We talked for about an hour. And it is interruption-free: Once I get going with Lisa, it’s just going to go straight through; it’s just under an hour.
And how is that possible? It’s made possible because we’ve made a deal to have an exclusive sponsor for this episode: I’m going to tell you about them right now.
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And they have something called Insights, which is sort of an analysis of what everybody in your family is doing online, when they do it — sort of an accounting, so you can see how much time your family is spending on the internet.
What about 4G, LTE? They have a separate product called Circle Go, which you can install on your kid’s smartphone, and it gives you the same sort of control over their access when they’re on a cellular network (or any other Wi-Fi network other than your own).
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They’re a proud sponsor of the Talk Show; they’ve sponsored before, and they’re very much excited to be the sponsor of this show, because Disney’s very encouraged by Lisa Jackson’s efforts at Apple around environmental policy and her work on Apple’s ConnectEd program. So they’re very excited to be the sponsor of this show. Exclusive, so my thanks to them.
And then, here we go. Away with the show:
Gruber: So we met, briefly, a few weeks ago when I was on campus for the Mac Pro thing, and the first words out of your mouth were…
Jackson: [Laughs.] We talked about Drexel and baseball and…
Gruber: You said “How can a guy from Philly be a Yankees fan?!”
Jackson: [Laughs.] That’s true. I don’t understand that at all. But, alright, you can be if you want to be, I suppose. I’m a Mets fan. Mets for life!
Gruber: Are there any Yankees fans at Apple? I get it from Schiller, he’s a Red Sox fan, Steve Dowling, Red Sox fan, and now I found out you’re a Mets fan.
Jackson: Yeah, I married into the Mets and can’t ever be without them. But, yeah, I don’t know! If they’re around, maybe they’re just not holding their head up too high these days. [Laughs.] I’m sure they’re all going to come and find me after this airs, but… they’re here.
Gruber: Well, if there are any Yankees fans at Apple, you should go after Lisa Jackson, and…
Jackson: [Laughs.] Thanks. That’s all I need — there aren’t any people in the world going after Lisa Jackson, so let’s just add them to the list. It’ll be great.
Gruber: Ah, well. [Laughs.] So, we won’t talk baseball, but so far so good for both the Yankees and Mets, they’re both off to a good start. So! Neither of us really has anything to rib the other about.
Jackson: Yes! Always about the bullpen, right?
Jackson: But we’ll see. OK, well, we’ll keep our fingers crossed, and hopefully I won’t talk to you later if things go the wrong way, but…
Gruber: We are talking because this episode will air right before Earth Day, and Earth Day is a big — it’s turned into an annual celebration for Apple. You guys have announcements that coincide with Earth Day every year now, correct?
Jackson: Yeah, that’s right! It’s something that we started back in 2014.
Gruber: So this year, uh… I have notes here.
Gruber: Let me make sure I don’t miss anything. By the time this episode airs, your 2017 Environmental Responsibility Report will be out, and you have a big announcement there: You guys are setting a new goal, which is a “closed-loop supply chain”. Can you tell me what that means?
Jackson: Well, it sounds so technical. What we’ve said is that — for years now, we’ve said that one of our three priorities is to really recognize the fact that the resources that we use to make our products are finite, just by definition.
And the world has been looking for awhile at this idea of trying to close the loop on supply chains. So if you think about most supply chains, and ours is very complex, sp I’m going to oversimplify: You mine something out of the Earth, you source it — usually it comes from the Earth somehow. It’s a finite resource. Then you manufacture, you produce it; obviously, there are many, many people involved in the manufacture of our products. And people use them, they buy them, they use them, that’s great. Hopefully they use them for a very long time, they get all their software upgrades, everything’s wonderful — but at some point, you have to discard it.
And Apple’s spent a lot of time and effort over the years — for many years — on the recycling end, you know. Being able to try to bring used electronics in and recycle them. But the frustrating part of that has been, you know, that’s still a [single] line. When it’s time to make more products, many of our suppliers still go back to the mines, if you will. Go back to the Earth.
Jackson: So one of the things we’ve set our sights on — and I have to start by saying this is a very long-term goal, and it’s not like us to announce goals way out into the future, but it’s sort of a North Star for us — is to start to close that loop, to say “Can we use recycled material — maybe our recycled material, but recycled material in general — to be more of the feedstocks for our suppliers for the components that make up our products?”
So if you think about that for a second, it requires all of us working together. It’s kind of a systems problem. Everything from design to engineering to manufacturing to procurement — all those relationships with suppliers.
But it’s really something kind of cool for us: We’ve sort of worked with a lot of the folks who do the work here, and I think all of us think it’s just a fun and really important time to focus on resources.
Gruber: You said you have [...] three main priorities at Apple in this regard. What are those three priorities?
Jackson: So they haven’t changed, and I don’t think they will. The first is to address climate change. I say it really broadly that way because it’s not to zero out our carbon footprint or to become carbon neutral, but really to look at climate change as a problem that the world is facing. Really, the largest environmental, and environmental health problem, and economic problem in many places. We now see it’s another big systems problem.
And so, to address it, obviously, the way to address it is energy efficiency, more renewable energy, cleaner energy on the grid, moving to a low-carbon world.
So we take really seriously our responsibility to first, start at home: Apple is 100 percent renewably powered in 24 countries, including our own — I’m sorry, is 96 percent renewably powered, I’m about to get in trouble here — in 24 countries, we’re 100 percent. So in the U.S., we’re 100 percent. [...] But when you average it out around the world, we’re at 96 percent.
And that includes our data centers, those are at 100 percent. So all of our data centers, every time you send a message, or send a FaceTime video, you’re using a data center that’s not contributing to climate change. And it includes our offices — our new office, Apple Park, of course, being one of those.
So, 96 percent, we’re really proud of. So, climate change is #1. We talked a little bit about resources, #2.
And our third one kinda goes back to something that’s been in our history for a long time, and that’s to use greener materials, to remove toxic materials, usually well ahead of the game; Apple removed halogenated compounds from our products years ago. And so we wanted to sort of honor this history that Apple has had of pioneering the use of greener, safer, better materials, and then keep that as one of our priorities. Because there’s a lot of people here that are very proud of the work they did to accomplish, for example, PVC-free power cords.
Gruber: Yes. And that’s become — you can bank on it — a hallmark of every product introduction event…
Jackson: [Laughs.] Yeah.
Gruber: … is at some point there’s going to be that green checklist, and it’s not something that gets rushed through, it’s a “Let’s pause for a second; we want to tell you how awesome this product is, but we want to pause right now and just say, look at this, it’s PVC-free, this-free, that-free.” That’s become a, you can bank on it for every product.
Jackson: Now, I’m almost hoping it gets to the point where everyone says it along with us, and because Phil Schiller’s usually the one who does it. The Secretary of Explaining Things, I call him.
Jackson: But he usually takes the time to really explain the products, and all they do, and it makes me really proud that he always insists that one of the things he wants to explain is the time that it takes — I mean, the materials that aren’t in there. And I think it’s partially because he realizes how much deep innovation and engineering it takes to make those decisions, to take those materials out.
And a lot of times with pollution, you’re talking about the stuff that didn’t happen. [Laughs.] And so that can be a hard thing for most people to appreciate or understand. But it’s always really cool that Apple takes the time to do that.
Gruber: And part of what makes it difficult for Apple in particular, is that Apple has very high standards. It’s what the company is known for in consumers’ minds. Part of the brand, is that their stuff is very nice. It is nice in terms of — it just looks nice, it feels nice.
And sometimes, I think in the past, some of the reason that some of these substances and materials that were used that are not environmentally-friendly were used, it was because such-and-such thing makes the glass shinier, or something like that. And so it’s, for Apple, it’s not — you can’t just get rid of it, you have to get rid of it and still keep the standards for the devices and the quality of the materials as high as possible.
Jackson: I think that’s… true. I mean, I wasn’t in the labs when work was being done. I think there’s also an element of “That’s the way it’s always been done,” so power cords is a great example. You know, do you need polyvinyl chloride in the power cord in order to make it strong enough and safe enough, well — pretty much around the world, Apple has worked to get certified power cords that don’t have them. They do feel different, they are softer.
But there’s a really important reason why, which is that those materials are never introduced anywhere in the supply, which is really sort of a prevention of pollution for our workers, and the communities where manufacturing happens.
I think it’s also a bit of a nod to the folks in the environmental testing and technologies group. We have an environmental testing lab here, and it’s grown over the years. I was actually there… yesterday? Day before? Can’t even remember, the week is going by fast.
But, we also have to test the parts that we get, and one of the things we’ve been doing is testing, so far I think it’s over 20,000 individual parts. Because a lot of things end up in a part. We might specify how we want the part to behave, and what we want in it. But a lot of times, there’s materials that are in there that maybe you don’t need, or maybe you don’t realize, or maybe we want to make sure to substitute it out.
And so we’re also spending a lot of time, it’s almost like our own little DNA project. Learning and understanding intimately what are in the parts we get from our suppliers.
Gruber: One of the things — you know, I don’t want to skip around too much, but —
Jackson: [Laughs.] OK. I tend to do that.
Gruber: [Laughs.] I do too. I do too. But a lot of this stuff is interrelated. It’s like, all of a sudden we’re talking about the materials that are used in these devices, and it leads you immediately to talking about aspects of the supply chain.
Part of the news this week is a series of four short videos, animated videos by James Blagden, and I got a sneak look at them ahead of this so I could see it, but by the time the show airs, they’ll be out. And they’re really kind of interesting, but they cover different, different aspects of it.
And one of them covers the goal of having no — correct me if I’m wrong, but the goal is to have no waste going to landfills from the supply chain?
Jackson: Yeah. Right now, the video covers our final assembly facilities. So those — that’s why you’ll see in the video, an emphasis on, sort of, material coming in, which is what happens at those facilities. A lot of material and parts come in, and then they’re assembled, and a product goes out the door.
But yeah, so the emphasis is on this idea — and it’s not a new idea, but I think Apple is really embracing it — we have facilities now, all of our final assembly facilities. [...] We have a facility in Cork, we have facilities in China, we have a facility in Brazil, and our facility here in California are now certified by UL as zero-waste. And it was this classic environment versus economy argument that’s so false, and it was so evident because the reason this started was looking at a problem and thinking, “Oh, we’ve just got all this material, and it’s waste,” and thinking, “Oh, the answer is recycling.”
But really, the answer is to think smart about why are so many things coming in but leaving empty? And can they go back — can you take a pallet, or can you take a tray that contains material and send it back so that it can be used over and over again. And that saves money — [laughs] — so people really embraced it; it’s not always easy to see that path towards saving money, but everybody feels really good about the idea of not having to send waste to a landfill in order to produce our products.
Gruber: In other words, it’s sort of, in the common sense of the word, it’s kind of like a simpler form of “recycling”, where instead of having — and again, you think about the magnitude of it and sometimes, it just boggles the mind, where they’re talking about an assembly facility that is churning out 150,000 iPhones a day, which is crazy.
And you just think, well, every single one of these iPhones has a Touch ID sensor, and it comes in a tray —
Gruber: And if you can just have those trays that were used to deliver the Touch ID sensors in the morning go back out be the same tray that’s being used to deliver the Touch ID sensors in the afternoon, it’s sort of like recycling without actually having to go through all the process of actually remulching the material and turning it into a new tray. Why turn a tray that was used once into another tray when you could just reuse the tray?
Jackson: Yep, exactly. I mean that old adage of “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” is part of it, but it shouldn’t be the first place we go. And I kind of like the way you’re explaining it, because part of our thought of these videos was, you know, not everyone at home has a final assembly facility, but they do have the opportunity to think the same way about the waste that they might produce.
And we really wanted to connect our customers first to what we do, but also maybe to spark in them the thoughts of “Hey, that’s a really interesting way of thinking about life in general, and maybe it applies a little to me” — maybe they won’t make that connection, but really, we just wanted to make it simple, maybe thought-provoking, and to reach people where they are, but also it gave us a chance — the video you’re talking about, it gave John a chance to tell his story. And there are just so many cool stories at Apple of people who don’t have to, but want to do the right thing and figure out — maybe a little bit of trial and error, John has a little bit of a trial and error moment in that short video — but they figure out what to do, and then the beauty of Apple, of course, is once we figure out what to do, we learn how to do it at scale pretty quickly. [Laughs.]
Gruber: Yeah, I’ve noticed it, like — my son is in seventh grade, and it’s not like a rule, it’s not like they’re told everybody has to come in with it, but as far as I can tell, every kid comes into school every day with a thermos or an aluminum water bottle. So for drinking water, nobody brings in, like, the retail bottles of water; every kid comes in with a little thermos that they just fill with cold water at the beginning of the day.
Jackson: Yeah, and they don’t see it, right? I’m guessing your son doesn’t see it as a pain or anything weird, he actually just thinks of it as the way to drink water.
Gruber: Yep, exactly.
Jackson: I mean, [laughs.], my son is considerably older than yours, but I was talking to him yesterday, and I asked him “What’d you have for lunch?”
[Low voice] “I didn’t eat.”
Jackson: I said, “Oh.” So then as a mom, I’m upset, but then I’m like “What’d you do?”
He’s like “I drank water all day.”
I was like “How’d you do that?”
And he’s like “I brought a water bottle from home, mom.” Just like “Leave me alone”. But they don’t — it’s not a big deal. And it’s not seen as, like, you don’t need to buy this bottled water, it’s right there. It’s for us. It’s actually one of the blessings we have in this country is (mostly) a secure supply of clean drinking water.
Gruber: Yeah, but that’s exactly it, though. It seems it just comes naturally to kids today. It doesn’t seem like — they don’t even see it as like “Oh, I’m doing my good deed for the environment,” this just makes sense.
Jackson: Absolutely. And I sometimes wonder, like, what other things will be that way. I know climate change will be that way. You just wonder what other things will be sort of baked in with an ethic that’s a lot more thoughtful about the planet, and sort of your role in the planet.
Gruber: One of the other videos, and again, skipping around a little bit. But it’s OK — [laughs.] — it’s all in your purview. One of them focused on the new Apple Park and how the building is, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s an innovative design to cooling. That it’s like a combination of cold water running through pipes and sort of a breathable “let the wind blow through the building” to circulate… can you tell me more about that?
Jackson: Yeah, so these [videos] will be out and hopefully everybody will have seen them. But if you haven’t seen the building with Dan Whisenhunt — who’s done a lot of the work overseeing the construction of Apple Park — Dan talks about the way the building was designed by Foster and Partners to be a breathing building. And he does a lovely job — and [animator James] Blagden does a great job of sort of illustrating the idea of “here’s the typical building, and here’s how this one works.”
Now you know, we have kind of an advantage: First off, we’re in Silicon Valley, in Cupertino, and the climate here is mild, though it can get pretty warm in the summer. It’s not New Orleans hot, like what I’m used to — [laughs] — but it’s hot, it can get warm.
Gruber: I was going to mention Philadelphia humidity, but you trumped me with — [laughs] — New Orleans.
Jackson: I think they’re almost the same. It’s the same with DC. People used to say, “Oh, New Orleans is so hot,” but I’m like “No, it’s not, it’s hot in the summer when it’s humid, there’s just nothing like it.”
But 75 percent of the time at Apple Park, we’re estimating that there won’t be a need for additional air conditioning. And you’re right. The building sort of is designed to have this flow of air — it would be sort of convection into the building through these levers, and then past concrete that has cool water circulating in it, and that should be enough.
And it’s also designed to have a lot of air do that. And so there’s lots of studies that show that outside air, sun, is actually the environment we humans were meant to be in — not these artificially conditioned environments.
And the building is on track to be certified by the U.S. Building Council to be LEED Platinum — that’s their highest certification for environment and energy efficiency and smartness. And so we’re really proud of that, because it includes the R&D [research and development] facilities; it’s really an R&D park as much as it’s an office building. So it’s going to be exciting, I’m thrilled for the day we actually move in, though I know it’s going to be a bit of madness.
Gruber: [Laughs.] Moving is always madness. Moving the world’s largest corporation across town, really, I don’t know…
Jackson: [Laughs.] What could go wrong? Really.
Gruber: Alright, here’s a question that I have. And I would like — explain it to me like I’m an idiot, what it means — what “renewable energy” means in the sense of “96 percent of your operations are running on renewable energy, and in 24 countries 100 percent” — explain to me what that means, and why I should care.
Jackson: So we set a goal to run on 100 percent renewable for all of our operations, and I just want to say, notably, we set a goal from the beginning to run data centers on renewable energy.
You should care because climate change is real, it’s happening, and any responsible company ought to be thinking about its role in solving that problem. It’s just that simple to me.
I mean, Tim talks a lot about “Companies are made of people, and companies have values and they should stand for things.” And this company has said very clearly that one of the things we stand for is taking care of our environment. I don’t think that’s in any way partisan either. I think most people would say less pollution is good, more pollution is bad.
But also the idea that having the planet and having the resources of the planet around for future generations is really important. And then you’re a parent, but I think many of us think about our obligation to future generations, not to leave a place that’s heading to the point where the only option is to recolonize or colonize another planet. [Laughs.] Just doesn’t seem like a parental thing to do.
And so there’s all kinds of reasons, and I could get — I could wax all day about climate change, but what we said is, look, ideally, we are not a power company. We are not a utility. If the world was where we wanted it to be today, there’d be a utility saying “Hey, what kind of power do you want to buy? OK, sure, here, I’ll sell it to you.” That would be awesome.
We don’t have that choice everywhere. So Apple has the ability to do a little bit more. So in general, we know how much energy we use in a particular country, in a particular region, and our goal is to put that much — or more — clean energy onto the grid where we use it.
So a couple of things: The idea is it has to be new clean energy. We don’t want to just come in and buy all the available clean energy, because then there’s nothing left for somebody else to buy, that doesn’t seem very fair. And, wherever possible, to displace dirtier energy.
So because we’re there, there’s this new clean energy, and maybe it means you don’t need as much of the more polluting forms of energy. And then we try to be very fastidious about quantifying that. So we “true up” at the end of every year.
When people ask me, “Well, that means you’re not always using the exact clean energy electrons that you generate,” because we have solar panels on top of Apple Park, solar farms at our data centers, we have wind power that we purchase here in California, we even have micro-hydro projects in Oregon. We don’t always have that [direct] connection; it has to go through the grid, and the grid plays an important role.
But it’s like an ATM: We make sure we’re putting enough clean energy — new clean energy — in to cover what we have to take out. And although that’s not the absolute optimum, to us it feels like if every company did that, we’d have a lot more clean energy on the grid, and demanded on the grid, and that would displace brown power.
Gruber: Is it a source of frustration for you either in your current role specifically at one company, Apple, or looking even broader at your career — and previously, for anybody who doesn’t know, for the first four years of the Obama administration, you were the head of the EPA.
Is it a source of frustration for you that more companies don’t seem to place as high a priority on using renewable energy?
Jackson: I think companies are moving in that direction. What we always knew at EPA, and what’s really clear to me here is a business needs certainty, and has to make decisions based on where policy is going, where it thinks the world is going.
And it has been really clear to most big multinational companies I think for some time that we’re going to be living in a carbon-constrained future. It’s not clear how it’s going to be constrained — I mean, there’s the Paris climate accords, there are all kinds of policy discussions going on around the world about how to get to lower carbon, and some countries are in the middle of that transformation in a very big way.
So I think a lot of companies over the last 8-10 years had to decide what to do, and have made the decision to incorporate energy efficiency, of course — because that’s cheaper and cleaner — but also renewable energy. And that’s true in states like Texas, certainly, and states like California. But you know, we have a big data center in Nevada, it’s true there, we have a big data center in North Carolina, which is on its third solar farm now.
When I left EPA, the one thing I thought was — because I’m an engineer; a chemical engineer by training, actually, around all these computer science and electrical engineers, so go figure — but I wanted to go back to my roots and sort of say, I believe… I’ve always believed that business has not just a role but a responsibility.
Part of the reason I became an engineer, or an environmental sort of engineer, is that I remember being in school and thinking as a chemical engineer, we make all this hazardous waste. Chemical engineers should be responsible as a profession for stopping this problem. And so I think that’s sort of how we think about it here.
And I think more companies are seeing it that way. It is a little depressing that there’s some old thinking out there out there still — which is that you can either have economic growth or you can have a clean environment — but that’s old-fashioned thinking. We really need people to sort of look beyond that and really think about the problem and innovate around it.
Gruber: That’s something that — and, again, I’m very much a layperson in the expertise on this — but at a commonsense level, it frustrates me to hear that argument of economic growth being tied to “We can’t spend money on… we have to do things the cheapest way possible right now, which would be to continue using fossil fuels and just spewing carbon into the air” versus it’s like an idealism that we can’t afford to go to cleaner and renewable sources.
What frustrates me with that argument is that — isn’t that where all this opportunity is? Where new companies or even existing companies — existing energy companies — could stand to make a fortune if they make major breakthroughs in renewable energy?
Jackson: You sound like an environmental and energy expert to me, John. I mean, it’s not surprising you see it, because you’re also used to the thinking in [Silicon] Valley, and it’s not only in the Valley, but this idea that we need to apply the same level of innovation to the environment and our work to protect the planet as we do to the other work that we do — in Apple’s case, to our products.
And as soon as you start to see innovation as the way forward, then you realize that the only limitation is our imagination, our creativity, and our persistence — you know, the sweat you put into something. So when we talk about wanting to use more recycled materials in our products, it’s about looking at a supply chain that right now is just not going to be sustainable over time. There won’t be enough, or some country might decide to control the supply of materials needed, and the price just goes up.
So how can we get ahead of that? It’s all about innovation, and not looking — I also like to say, because I am a little bit of a nerd, is that the thing about an engineer is that engineers wake up, and at Apple it’s absolutely true. We wake up when you give us a hard problem. And we look at it as a challenge.
And if I have one complaint about my profession, it’s that we need to continue to include the idea of ethics — solving the problem, part of the elegant solution, has to be thinking about whether it’s truly a sustainable one. Economically sustainable, yes, but who’s being harmed in this solution?
And I think good companies are there, and I hope that customers start to expect and demand that of companies because right now, I really believe that a lot of the leadership that we’re going to see on these issues has to come from businesses that stand up and dispute this idea that they need to pollute in order to profit.
Gruber: Yeah, I hope, at least that it sort of changes from consumers (maybe like environmentally conscious consumers, a smaller niche of them if you will) keeping a whitelist of a handful of good companies who are environmentally conscious, to more of a broader… here’s a blacklist of companies who are clearly disregarding the environment in their actions and operations, I’m not going to do business with them because it’s… I find that offensive.
Jackson: Yeah, it’s like a gray-green list. Khaki, I think. [Laughs.] But yeah, absolutely. I just agree with you, and I also think consumers are sort of confused, too. Because you have companies of all stripes standing up and claiming, especially this week, as we roll into Earth Day, sort of putting forth their “green” credentials.
And Apple’s no different, so I think it tends to make people a bit cyncial. So part of the videos was also opening up a little and showing that all these claims you make take work and effort, and all these promises that we make, we try not to make them if we don’t know how we’re going to get there. But in some cases, they require a lot of persistence.
So one of the frustrations I’ve had, also, is frankly — there’s a lot of people out there who claim to say, you know, they make lists. Everybody makes lists. But what I want people to know is that, for me, this company, Apple, is thinking years, decades ahead about how to influence our sector, the tech sector, the consumer products sector, and make it better.
And leave the world, as Tim would say, leave the world better than we found it.
Gruber: One of the other announcements you guys had this week was that in a partnership with the WWF, which — when I see it, I still think of the pro wrestling —
Jackson: [Laughs.] Well, they would not like to hear that.
Gruber: I know, I know.
Jackson: Props to WWF.
Gruber: But it’s not the wrestling organization —
Jackson: No, it’s the World Wildlife Foundation.
Gruber: And you guys, in partnership with them, have gotten over 300,000 acres of working forest in China to be recommended for what’s called the Forest Stewardship Council Certification. And that means that Apple is now protecting and creating sustainable working forest, as much as is needed, to cover the — your paper needs for the packaging that you guys make.
Gruber: In plain English, does that mean that as much paper as you guys are using for packaging, there’s trees that are being regrown at the same rate that they’re being used to turn into paper?
Jackson: Yeah! I like that. You see, you should be in the videos —
Jackson: Because you’re explaining stuff really well, too! Yeah, that’s exactly it. Awhile ago — actually, I’d just started at Apple — and the woman who runs packaging (amongst other things), Kate Bergeron… we were all at dinner, having a glass of wine, and she was like “You know, I’ve been thinking for a long time, we should just buy a forest,” and it was sort of my introduction to, you know, think different at Apple. [Laughs.]
This idea that somebody who does packaging would go that far deep in her thinking. Really analyzing the problem. And of course, she was trying to get at that very problem. Which is, packaging is made out of paper — by the way, our packaging is increasingly almost entirely paper; we’ve tried to phase out plastics because we think paper can be a renewable resource.
And what if we controlled how that paper was — how the wood was harvested and the pulp was made? So we didn’t buy the forest ourselves, but we found great partners. In the U.S., we found a group called the Conservation Fund, so we have 36,000 acres in Maine and North Carolina that they’ve worked to preserve and ensure remain in sustainable forestry, so “working forests” — yes, trees are chopped, but trees are also planted.
And then, we found WWF in China. And there it’s not a land ownership issue, it was a management issue. We had these big, basically paper — they call them plantations — and making sure that they were being managed sustainably, which has been a goal of China’s, as well.
So we found the right partner; they have some great people on the ground in China. Chinese folks who are really, deeply involved with working with these Chinese businesses. And we’re really proud of the fact that based on the work they’ve done in just, I think about two years, we’ve gotten to the point where those forests — the three of them — are producing enough sustainably and responsibly-managed wood to cover our needs.
Now, we’ve also done something on the other end, which is back to that old “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”: We’ve wanted to reduce how much virgin paper we need for packaging. So we’ve really upped our work on using recycled paper, and we’ve also upped our work to make packaging smaller and lighter whenever we can.
So we still have work to do: This is, it’s a long road, and so I don’t want it to sound like we’re there. But we’re really proud of the fact that this year we hit that milestone.
Gruber: And again, this is another one of those things where the stakes are very high for Apple, because Apple products are known for having beautiful packaging. And it’s not enough to just say, well, we’ll take out the plastic and we’re use cardboard or some kind of paper — it has to be nice.
Jackson: Yeah, it has to be more than nice, right? I mean, that’s maybe the thing I didn’t emphasize enough — I didn’t want to come here and do this in a way where people felt they were giving something up in order to do something good.
And I don’t mean that to sound — it’s sort of like, again, back to your son. He’s doing something good, but it doesn’t change his experience. He still feels really good, he’s getting the water he needs.
For us here at Apple, we understand that our customers love our products. They feel emotionally attached to the experience, all the way from taking it home to unboxing it to turning it on the first time, to seeing the “Hello,” all the way through use and upgrades.
So none of that is what we’re trying to impact. And in fact, we won’t allow it to happen that way. I don’t think anybody here would allow us to impact that. What we’re trying to do is make sure people understand that all these really smart people here are thinking about ways to make it green and better, and produce without harming the planet, so you don’t have to.
So you can feel really good about the purchase that you make it. So that you know that part of making the best products in the world is making the best products for the world.
Gruber: I would like to talk — this is an area where I really just don’t know much about — about transportation. Because just going back to that basic idea of like an assembly plant in China that’s manufacturing 150,000 iPhones a day. And, let’s say, it’s September and there’s a new iPhone, and the day that it comes out, there are millions of UPS drivers around North America ringing doorbells, dropping off pre-ordered iPhones.
To get all those iPhones from China to North America — and then once they get to North America, to distribute them to everybody who purchased it — there’s an awful lot of fossil fuel being burned on that, right?
Jackson: Yeah. Transportation as a sector for our carbon footprint is actually a very small percentage of our carbon footprint. I’ll get you the number — I’m looking as I speak. But we do a comprehensive carbon footprint for Apple. This year, for 2016, for the year just passed, it’s 29.5 million metric tons [total]. And transportation of our product is 4 percent of that. So to do the math really quickly.
Included in that carbon footprint is — some people say “cradle to grave” — we’re trying to get rid of the grave and make a closed-loop system. But right now, all the way from the mine, even though we don’t own mines, we don’t have relationships with mining companies. But we estimate the extraction and processing of, let’s say, the alumina to make aluminum enclosures, all the way through a product use.
We actually include in our carbon footprint the use — the electricity you use as an Apple customer — because you wouldn’t use that electricity if it wasn’t for Apple, so all the way to recycling.
So it’s not a huge part of our carbon footprint, but 4 percent is nothing to sneeze at. The biggest part of our carbon footprint is actually in the manufacturing, all those suppliers that our in our supply chain. And so one of the other things that we’re doing is spending time with them; now that we’re at 96 percent renewable we’ve learned a lot, and so now we’re trying to bring them along.
And this year, we’re announcing three new suppliers who’ve committed to go 100 percent renewable for all their operations — Compal, Sunwoda, and Biel — and that brings us to 7 suppliers [at 100 percent renewable, joining Lens, Catcher, Solvay, and Ibiden]. And I think that number’s going to keep going up. I don’t want to act like all of them are doing it just because of Apple, but those 7 have made an Apple-specific commitment, and there are others who are doing it on their own.
So, yes, transportation’s a problem that we need to think about, and we can do that: you know, when you make a lighter product in a smaller package, it helps with transportation emissions. And when we think about marine — taking it by ship versus air — that helps with transportation.
Every little bit will help, but we are tackling the biggest places first the hardest.
Gruber: But in other words, you guys aren’t sweeping any aspect of it under the rug by saying “Well, that’s not us.” Right? Like: “This is what Apple, actual Apple employees are doing in Apple-owned buildings, and anything that happens from the mine until it gets there, we’re not taking that into account” — you guys are really trying to account for everything.
Jackson: Yeah, because you can’t change the world if you stop at your theoretical borders. You have to change yourself first. You have to lead by example and not demand of others what you’re not willing to do. But I think we’re one of the few companies — I won’t say the only companies in the world — who take this very comprehensive look at our carbon footprint. We’d love to get it to zero, which would mean that all those suppliers would be at zero carbon footprint.
And we’re trying to do it right now, not using offsets or credits. There might be some places in the world that it’s just not possible to do that right now, but that’s where we are — that’s why we’re at 96 percent, not saying 100 percent. Because we could get to 100 percent if we just bought some credits…
Jackson: So we’re still working on that, and yeah, it feels really good to be that expansive, because then you can inspire the energy folks, the product power folks, to make the most efficient products in the world. Because every time you save a watt of energy on a MacBook, you’re saving a tremendous amount because we sell so many of them.
Jackson: The more expansive you are, the more, I guess, playing field you have to play with (to go back to the sports analogy).
Gruber: There’s an old story from the 80s, of the creation of the original Macintosh. Somebody had a stopwatch and timed how long it took the prototype to start up. And Steve Jobs said, you gotta get that, you gotta cut 30 seconds off that.
And they’re like, “Why?” And he goes like “Well, we’re going to sell millions of these things. Multiply that by 30 seconds…”
Gruber: … And it came out to, like, I don’t know. 87 years. And he goes “There you go. You saved a life.”
Jackson: [Laughs.] Yeah, yeah, right. I read that.
Gruber: And it’s like that with energy, right? You take, what, 70 million iPhones in a quarter, and if you can make them a little bit more energy efficient, every little bit you multiply by the 70 million that were just sold and it adds up.
Jackson: Yeah, I think the number is something like since 2008, on average, our products are 70 percent more energy efficient. And there’s been some great, big technology innovations in there.
And I also want to be really clear — back to that idea that you don’t have to sacrifice — those are all things that make the experience better. You know, energy efficiency, the flipside of that is battery life. If something doesn’t use a lot of energy, you need a smaller battery or you need a battery — your battery of whatever size goes longer on a charge.
So all these things tend to have sort of compounding reasons, and sometimes they’re even based on the customer experience, but there’s a happy sort of carbon benefit at the same time, or an environmental benefit, too.
Gruber: You said earlier that this sort of thinking shouldn’t be seen as partisan — and I think that the cynics’ take on that would be that Apple, as the most profitable company in the world, can afford to be, can afford to spend on this idealism.
But I think your argument would be that, no, it’s “Apple, as the most profitable company in the world, can show that having a focus on this sort of stuff is not at odds with being profitable.”
Jackson: Yeah, and it’s the right thing. I think if you go back to sort of, you know, core human values — protecting the planet where we live; where our children grow up; where we work; the places that we used to fish or swim as a kid; the drinking water that we all, honestly, take for granted because most of us haven’t had the experience of say, people in Flint, where you literally have to shower and wash your face with bottled water. All of those things are just goods. [Laughs.]
And so, when we think about the environment, it shouldn’t — our position is, we’re not taking a side in terms of whether any political approach is right. We’re just saying this is a good [moral value]. It’s good to have, to be efficient, to be thoughtful and careful. Kind of what my grandmother said. “Waste not, want not.”
This idea that in a world where we have been incredibly fortunate as a country or as a people, to think of that as our responsibility. I think it for me it’s sort of almost a moral thing.
But yeah. It’s not about having the money to do it. It’s about figuring out the innovations that would then, hopefully, spread out like ripples and allow others to do it too. I think if you went to someone who, right now, has a utility bill, and there was a way that they would have cleaner energy that would also reduce their utility bill, they would be for it.
Jackson: That’s a policy question. I don’t think it depends on what party you’re in if you ask somebody “Would you rather have solar power?” I think it’s kind of a cool thing.
Gruber: Where do you see the role between the government — in the U.S., like the EPA — and a business like Apple taking initiative on its own to do these things?
Jackson: Yeah, you know, we… from the EPA perspective, there wasn’t a ton of places where EPA and Apple intersected. EPA is a regulatory agency, and there are regulations that definitely effect the technology sector, but regulations, in many cases — not all cases — are meant to set the floor. They just can’t set the ceiling. And in fact, if they set a ceiling, they’re not doing the right thing.
They should be there to help innovation go forward, and you know, I’m not for every piece of regulation, especially those that seem to be picking which innovations should or shouldn’t go forward. I think that requires real thoughtfulness.
But I think for countries like ours — it’s not to say we don’t have times where we have regulations that affect us, it’s not to say, I don’t want anybody walking away from this thinking we’ve figured out how to do it right all the time. We will have problems, like any other company will.
But our general orientation is to try to do the best we can to meet the goals we’ve set for ourselves around climate change, around greener materials, and around conserving and being really smart and not wasteful about resources.
Gruber: Alright. One last question that I have for you: Where do you think Apple is least up to snuff?
Gruber: Like, where is the — where can you guys improve? Where do you have the most opportunity for improvement?
Jackson: Oh man, that’s like the interview question…
Jackson: … when they ask you for your one flaw. You know, you don’t answer that. But I mean, there are tons of things I wish I could snap my fingers and would be done. I wish we could make a better connection with our customers so we got more of our products back at end of life. I think we have a ton of work to do. I mean, we just outlined this big, hairy goal of starting to close loops for different materials.
And so, I think that’s going to be a big area of focus for us. It has to be done in a way that maintains all the things that Apple is.
Gruber: So that’s a great — that’s a great point. Somebody buys, let’s say, a MacBook Pro. And they use it for the next four years, and they get a great time out of it. And they upgrade, and they take that old one, and they just put it in a closet.
And they think, “Well, this old MacBook Pro, it’s still good, but you know, I’m going to get a new one,” and they put it in a closet.
And then a couple more years go by, and they’re like “Why do I still have this old MacBook Pro?”
Gruber: And at that point — at least that’s the way my closet works.
At that point, it’s… you don’t want them to just put it in the trash. The fact that this complicated fancy laptop is made out of recyclable materials — it’s not, you can’t just put it in the blue recycling bin where your aluminum cans go to get recycled.
Jackson: Right. What we’d love to have happen is that it comes back either to an Apple Store or that you go online and ask for a mailing box or envelope.
We’ll take back at the stores any product, any Apple product that you bring in. That’s our Apple Renew program. We are also emphasizing in the stores the programs that we have that allow you to upgrade. So if you’re a tech person who does like the latest technology, we want that! [Laughs.]
We want last year’s or the year before’s model back, because it still has value first off. A lot of the reason people love Apple is that if you want to sell your product yourself or trade it in, it has a great value. But at the end of life — and that could be a long time away, I mean we still have people rocking iPhone 4, and I think 3’s out there. But, when the time comes, we’d still like to have it back.
It is a bit of a challenge, by the way, to then make sure all that material gets back in the recycling chain, because it’s very different and very diverse. We’re starting to have quite a bit of a catalog back behind us. But that’s part of the challenge.
Gruber: Well, that was the video that was shown when you were on stage a few events ago, with the robot who disassembles iPhones?
Jackson: Yeah! Yeah, LIAM. LIAM is actually a twin now; here in California, and actually over in Europe.
Yeah, the idea was to think about that disassembly step and understand — if you think of this thing as a chain, or a big circle, every step influences the one before and again — so how do you disassemble this product? And do it in a way where you maximize the ability to maybe get tin back, or get aluminum back, or as we’re starting to look at with batteries, get cobalt back.
When you start to think about this challenge, not to scare myself — which I can do! [Laughs] — it’s material by material, component by component, product by product. Because the camera is different in the iPhone 6 than it is in the iPhone 7.
Those are all challenges we’re willing to take on, but the customer’s role in that is to, wherever possible — I’m not asking anybody give up their first iPhone — but wherever possible to get those products back to Apple.
And the other thing that’s online that’s really important is, a lot of people have security concerns. Your life is on your device. And so to make sure you wipe it, we’ll be looking out to do that as well. But a lot of people don’t want to part with them because of the data that’s on it. So there’s instructions on how to do that as well.
Gruber: Yup, that’s a good point. Anything else that you wanted to talk about today?
Jackson: No, I guess we covered it. We gotta give a shout-out to Drexel, right?
Jackson: Can I say hi to my son Bryan, who’s a Dragon? Heyyyy Drexel!
Gruber: Go Dragons! No, that’s an amazing connection between the two of us. Your son is doing, what is it, game design? Game development at Drexel.
Jackson: Yes, yes. I’m hoping that is an actual major, but…
Gruber: I hope it is! It wasn’t when I was there. But I actually know the program, I am familiar with it, and… [Laughs.]
Jackson: I am teasing, it is an amazing program, and I am a huge fan of the school, so shout out to Bryan and his friends and the amazing group over there at West Hall and the Engineering School.
Gruber: [While laughing] It would be pretty funny to imagine some college student just sitting around playing Playstation all day and tells his mom…
Gruber: “I’m studying game design.”
Jackson: Now look, your son is young, but let me just tell you, beware. They get real smart, real fast. Real, real fast.
Gruber: Lisa Jackson, thank you so much for your time. It has been an absolute pleasure talking to you.
Jackson: Right back at’cha.
Gruber: Have a good Earth Day, and I hope to see you soon.
Jackson: Thanks! Happy Earth Day.