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Apple's quest for a 100% renewably powered supply chain

With a foray into deforestation policy and solar energy in China, Apple is moving into a new phase of its sustainability goals.

Apple is ratcheting up action toward a goal of becoming completely powered by renewable energy with a slew of recent announcements.

The tech giant is also targeting 100 percent renewable energy for its mammoth supply chain, launching a solar power operation in China and targeting net-zero deforestation for the forests that provide paper for its product packaging.

Clearly, converting Apple's supply chain to renewable energy is a gargantuan task — the company's supply chain consumes about 60 times as much electricity as Apple's corporate operations. 

But there is precedent for transitioning to large-scale renewable energy use.

In 2014, Apple hit the milestone of running its U.S. operations — offices, retail stores and data centers — on 100 percent renewable energy. Wordwide, 87 percent of the company's facilities were renewably powered, using solar, wind, biogas, fuel cells, geothermal and hydropower. 

Last month, Apple also announced its first solar projects in China, which will more than power its 19 corporate offices and 22 retail stores there. SunPower is in a joint venture with Chinese partners to develop and own at least 3 GW of solar projects there.

Construction has begun on two 20-megawatt solar farms with "light footprint" technology, designed to coexist with grasslands that support the yak population. SunPower is combining single-axis trackers with rows of parabolic mirrors that will "provide up to 80,000 megawatt-hours a year while also protecting the ecosystem.

Apple is buying half the output of the California Flats Solar Project to power all operations in the state, including its headquarters:

Even with all this, Apple's total emissions rose by 1 percent from 2013-2014 — the most recent data available — because of more sales and more memory-intensive manufacturing. Since 2011, however, Apple has cut emissions 48 percent, and since 2008, emissions are down 61 percent from customers using their products.

Apple gets into forest conservation

In another first for the company, Apple wants to eliminate its footprint from forests as well as power by making sure all its paper comes from sustainably managed forests. 

The best way to do that is to own the forest and the supply chain, instead of buying pulp or paper from outside vendors.

In the U.S., a partnership with the Conservation Fund permanently will preserve 36,000 acres in Maine and North Carolina, managing forestry sustainably.

"Apple is clearly leading by example — one that we hope others will follow," said Larry Selzer, CEO of the Conservation Fund. "The loss of America's working forests is one of our nation's greatest environmental challenges. The initiative announced today is precedent-setting."

In China, Apple is working with World Wildlife Fund to protect about 1 million acres of responsibly managed working forests. 

"This collaboration between our two organizations will seek to reduce China's ecological footprint by helping produce more wood from responsibly managed forests within its own borders. Doing so is essential to China, the world's biggest timber importer," said Lo Sze Ping, CEO of WWF China. "Our hope is this will catalyze a new model of corporate leadership in promoting sustainable forest management and using paper resources more efficiently and responsibly around the world."

Over 80 percent of Apple's packaging is either recycled or sourced from sustainably managed forests, the company said.

This article originally appeared at SustainableBusiness.

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