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Lisa Jackson, Apple: ‘We are swinging for the fences’

Apple's VP of Environmental Initiatives hopes she has inspired home runs, starting with renewable energy.

Success in sustainability, as in baseball, sometimes is all about good timing. And Lisa Jackson’s timing could not have been more perfect.

Less than 24 hours after the San Francisco Giants won their third World Series in five years, and with the city still abuzz with baseball fever as it prepares for Friday’s tickertape parade, Apple’s vice president of environmental initiatives detailed how the Cupertino technology company is “swinging for the fences” on sustainability.

In her closing keynote at the GreenBiz Group’s VERGE SF conference–held just blocks away from the Giants’ baseball stadium–Jackson reflected on her first full year at Apple since vacating her post as head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in conversation with GreenBiz’s Joel Makower.

One of the fundamental values that Jackson has been driving home at Apple is the effort to “leave the world better than how we found it,” she said. “Having values be a part of this discussion is really important because there are value judgments to be made all the time.“

Since arriving at Apple, Jackson says she has found a way to inspire colleagues to go for home runs, rather than just playing small ball with bunts and singles. “If you want to inspire engineers at Apple,” she explained, you walk into a room and say, for example, 100-percent renewable energy company-wide would be great… “But it can’t be done. It’s impossible.”

And then next thing you know, the company is well on its way to hitting it out of the park: already Apple powers all of its data centers with 100-percent renewable energy, mostly solar power and wind, and it is relying purely on renewables to energize about 80 percent of its corporate facilities and about half of its retail stores.

“That is really what inspires people at Apple. And so we are swinging for the fences. It is really important at Apple,” she said. “We work really well when we say, ‘We would like to be at 100-percent renewable energy. We would like to eliminate certain toxins. We would like to change the definition of what recycling actually comes to mean.’”  

Asked by Makower if she had advice for other companies considering big sustainable energy decisions, Jackson reflected, “I wonder if we sometimes miss the swing-for-the-fences moment,  where you throw all the incremental goals away and say, ‘Why can’t we go for something different and important?’ Those are the moments we should be striving for.”

What about Apple CEO Tim Cook’s bold claim that the company’s new headquarters will be “the greenest building in the world?” asked Makower, observing, “That’s a heck of a lot of pressure.”

Jackson didn’t disagree.

But Cook’s bold statement does recall Babe Ruth’s legendary “called shot”–his predicted, and subsequently delivered, home run in Game 3 of the 1932 World Series.

Perhaps Cook, like Jackson, Babe and the San Francisco Giants, just has good timing–and the drive to swing for the fences. 

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