ClimateWire: Apple to vote today on climate resolution

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by Benjamin Hulac, E&E Reporter
originally published in ClimateWire, Feb. 26, 2016

Apple Inc. joined 80 companies last year in signing a White House climate change pledge, a public commitment to streamline energy use.

The tech giant said it had halved carbon emissions from corporate facilities worldwide since 2011 and was “already running all of its U.S. operations on 100 percent renewable energy.” But Apple’s statement as part of the American Business Act on Climate Pledge didn’t focus on its supply chain.

Christine Jantz, the founder and president of Jantz Management LLC, an investment firm in Boston, found that alarming.

She filed a resolution with Apple requesting that the company generate a report by June assessing how feasible it would be for the company to reach net-zero emissions “for its facilities and major suppliers” by 2030.

Jantz cites Siemens AG’s target, made in the fall, to become the “world’s first major industrial company to achieve a net-zero carbon footprint by 2030″ to make her case.

“In order to hold the global warming temperature to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius,” the aggressive target nations reached in Paris last year, “corporations and nations alike must reach net-zero GHG emissions as soon as possible,” Jantz’s proposal reads.

Apple is against the measure, which shareholders will vote on today at the company’s annual investors meeting in Cupertino, Calif.

“This proposal would result in the production of a report that would be largely duplicative of Apple’s existing public disclosures,” Apple said in a rebuttal to Jantz.

“In effect, the proponent is asking Apple to spend valuable time and resources creating a report that provides no meaningful value to shareholders. We would rather allocate time and resources towards continuing to reduce carbon emissions in our worldwide operations and helping our suppliers adopt clean energy,” officials wrote.

Controlling indirect emissions

Corporate managers oppose nearly all resolutions from outside investors, and measures rarely pass without executive support.

“This is not a general merchandiser,” Jantz said in an interview. Apple designs its own products, conducts research and has done an impressive job cutting its direct emissions, she said, adding that adopting her measure would be a good step for Apple as a brand.

Jantz cited research from the Climate Action Business Association that the company’s current energy plan would address less than 20 percent of emissions from top to bottom in its supply chain. “It seems reasonable that Apple should take more responsibility,” she said.

The latest available climate disclosure documents Apple filed with CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project, a group that collects corporate information about climate change, water use, cities, supply chain management and forestry, show that almost all — more than 99 percent — of Apple’s overall carbon emissions worldwide come from sources the company doesn’t control. The figures cover the year between September 2013 and September 2014.

These emissions are known as Scope 3, or indirect, emissions, such as electricity purchased by a supplier or energy used to transport goods for sale.

Apple declined multiple requests for an interview and did not respond to submitted questions. A spokeswoman instead provided public documents, including a report on Apple suppliers.

For its part, Apple has said it takes climate change and energy conservation seriously. And in many ways, it has limited tools available to compel overseas suppliers and contractors, throughout all stages of production, to cut emissions or use energy more efficiently.

Climate resolutions rising

“Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and the time for action is now,” Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO, said in a statement in October 2015, announcing an initiative to work with the corporation’s manufacturing partners to become more energy-efficient.

“We believe passionately in leaving the world better than we found it and hope that many other suppliers, partners and other companies join us in this important effort,” Cook said.

As of October, renewable energy powered more than 87 percent of Apple operations worldwide, according to the company, which has set a goal to power all its direct operations with renewable energy.

There is no deadline or time frame to meet that goal, according to Jantz. When asked, Apple did not say whether it has set a date to achieve its 100 percent renewables objective.

In the most recent survey documents Apple filed with CDP, the company noted its connections with former U.S. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and former Vice President Al Gore, a board member.

Jackson, in her role as vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives, filed the survey, and Gore, as the company points out, “is widely known as a leader in calling for climate action.”

Apple this month issued a $1.5 billion green bond to fund renewable energy throughout the firm’s supply chain. The company recently announced that one of the biggest facilities owned by one Apple’s top suppliers, Taiwanese firm Foxconn Technology Group — the world’s largest electronics manufacturing contractor — is now a zero-waste-to-landfill operation (ClimateWire, Feb. 24). And Apple said, in its latest supplier responsibility report, that it engages with its top 200 suppliers to improve environmental, labor and other practices.

Shareholder resolutions related to energy savings and climate change reached a record level last year and are on track to be a major theme at companies’ shareholder meetings this year, too (ClimateWire, May 27, 2015).

Exxon Mobil Corp. is facing a climate resolution to consider and explain how measures to rein in greenhouse gas emissions will affect business and sought help from the Securities and Exchange Commission to block another, which would require the firm to disclose payments for lobbying (ClimateWire, Feb. 3).

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