Apple's Real Carbon Footprint Is In Manufacturing and It's Dirty

Apple Inc. released its 2015 Environmental Responsibility Report this week. In the report, Apple proudly claims that their data centers are running on 100% renewable energy and that their new headquarters in Cupertino will run entirely on renewables (solar plant in nearby Monterey County). Apple is proud to claim that building operations in the USA are moving to 100% renewable. That's great. However, Apple's real carbon footprint is in the vast, vast amount of energy used and CO2 released in manufacturing all of its physical products, mostly in China. 

For example, of the 34 million metric tons of CO2 Apple claims responsibility for in fiscal year 2014, 24.8 million metric tons are in manufacturing and only 0.4 million tons are in facilities. Put another way, 73% of Apple's carbon footprint is in manufacturing, whereas only 1.1% is in facilities. Sorry Apple, switching facilities to renewables is great optics (and still worthwhile) but it is a drop in the bucket of their CO2 footprint. For Apple to meaningfully contribute to reducing global warming they will need to begin to transition their manufacturing partners to renewables. It seems they are now just taking small steps in that direction.

For now, Apple and other manufacturers, and consumers, are contributing both to the localized pollution crisis in China as well as global CO2 emissions. If Apple wants to be a leading corporate environmental steward, as statements by CEO Tim Cook and Lisa Jackson, Vice President of Environmental Initiatives indicate, then it needs to more fully and quickly address the source of their real carbon footprint: the manufacturing of physical products.

Booming Rooftop Solar Power Suffers Growing Pains

No doubt there will be pains (all energy  and economic transitions experience "pains") but this is poor reporting. Nearly the entire example rests on one case, one guy and his (minor) misfortune.

Middle-class Driving Solar Revolution in U.S.

Interesting article and accompanying data that indicates that the growth in solar panel installation is being driven by the middle-class, not the upper-class, in the US. 

Your first thought is probably that the wealthy are the only ones putting solar panels on their houses in large numbers, but according to a new report on residential solar in Arizona, California, and New Jersey, that's not the case.

The reason? Solar leasing.

Important question: how can folks work to bring working-class folks into the solar revolution and distributed power? This is an area that sorely needs to be addressed in research and action.  

2013 Motor Trend's Car of the Year...

is the Tesla Model S. It is the first time an internal combustion engine automobile has not won the award. To quell any squabbling that this is eco-hype, Motor Trend says, "At its core, the Tesla Model S is simply a damned good car you happen to plug in to refuel."

 image via motortrend.com

image via motortrend.com

 

Mining the Great Ocean Landfill

 
 Image via  Dwell

Image via Dwell

Method's new Ocean Plastic line of soap strikes me as classic greenwashing. But, hey, if they want to commodify and mine the gigantic floating island of plastic trash out in the Pacific Ocean, go ahead. However, making and buying these products does not strike me as a good solution to the plastic problem. File under: Shopping Our Way to Safety.

Community Solar Installation

A cool story from my town of residence, Chico, CA:

Seven homes on a north Chico cul-de-sac had solar arrays installed Saturday in a flurry of activity. Solarthon resembled the old-fashioned barn-raising its organizers likened it to, with a bit of block party thrown in, complete with a D.J. It was a fundraiser for GRID Alternatives, an Oakland-based nonprofit that opened its seventh office in Chico about a year ago.
 Image from Chicoer.com

Image from Chicoer.com

Nest Thermostat's True Value: Social

Nest Labs has released the Nest Learning Thermostat 2.0 nearly a year after 1.0 was released. As Nest continues to innovate in the smart, green thermostat space, marketing and perceived value has always tended towards: how much money does this save me? However, after one year of data collection by Nest, the deeper value in Nest is its social and aggregate value.

Nest is able to collect data on energy use and energy savings (read their stats here and download the whitepaper) Nest translates that into a monetary figure for average money saved. What is really exciting about Nest is its sociological implications for connected, networked based energy production, consumption, and data collection. As Nest Labs continues to collect user data we will begin to learn how people use energy and how we can improve energy efficiency and overall reduction. 

Nest Labs markets the Nest as, how we can save you money, but the larger, sociological implications of networked and data producing energy devices is Nest's real social value. And that is more exciting, and in the long run, more important than personal savings.

Energy Democracy

I won't give away David Roberts' punchline, read the article, but I'll start you with this:

Just as a cleaner electricity system would be preferable, so too would a more small-d democratic system, one that distributes economic and social power more widely.

Honeywell Killed Off its Learning Thermostat 20 Years Ago

I missed this one:

Katie Fahrenbacher, writing for GigaOM back in February, reported that, according to Honeywell, the company "found that consumers prefer to control the thermostat, rather than being controlled by the thermostat” and decided to cease development. Twenty years later, however, Nest Labs entered the thermostat market with in 2011 with a learning thermostat, one that requires no programming or fiddling to save money and energy use.

This past year, the Nest has gotten huge press and great reviews. Subsequently, Honeywell has sued Nest over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming it violated a string of patents. Interestingly, technology writer and iOS developer, Marco Arment has dinged the Nest for having weak programming abilities, a downside according to Arment of a learning thermostat, though Arment generally likes the Nest in other areas.

For the past year Nest has been a great case to watch as it attempts to disrupt the thermostat industry and points to the potential to connect internet technology and energy use and reduction. 

Union of Concerned Scientists: Reduce transport, home, food energy and CO2 output

In my research on energy use and CO2 emissions the evidence is quite clear that in the US and other late stage industrial nations an energy transition began about 30 years ago in which home energy and transportation consume more energy and release more CO2 than industry and manufacturing. So yes, we should be attempting to decrease home and transport energy use at the mid to high end of socio-economic brackets. Not necessarily an everybody for themselves, individualist approach, but through other means of aggregation (policy, home and transport industry practices, etc). 

Take That Honeywell

Nest Labs officially responds to Honeywell's patent infringement lawsuit:

Nest's new legal council Richard Lutton Jr. says,

As reported in prior litigations, Honeywell has a pattern of trying to stifle new market entrants with unfounded legal action. Instead of filing lawsuits, Honeywell should use its wealth and resources to bring innovative products to market. Nest will defend itself vigorously in court and we’ll keep our company’s focus where it should be – on developing and delivering great products for our customers.

Nest CEO Tony Fadell says, "Honeywell is worse than a patent troll," because instead of trying to get money out of Nest, Honeywell is trying to kill the competition [via The Verge].  

Trouble on the rails

The problem with train travel in the US is largely the rail network. I traveled from Central California to San Diego this week and the train had to stop and wait repeatedly. The trip took entirely too long. We had to wait for other Amtrak trains, MetroLink trains, and freight trains. We were stopped for up to 20-30 minutes at times, and were once stopped about 100 yards from a major station as we waited for a freight to pass.

If train travel is ever going to be competitive, efficient, or convenient the issue of track space and track right of way needs to be addressed. Imagine if while on a plane the captain said, "Ok folks, we've got to land at the next airport because the airway is being used by another plane. We'll be down and up off the ground as soon as we can." Amtrak has a disadvantage because it doesn't control its network, and its network is not prioritized like airspace or freeway networks by state and federal government.

Our rail network is not built or optimized for passenger rail, but rather for freight. Faster trains and cheaper fares won't make up for the notion and reality that you don't arrive on time and that it takes longer than it should to get from city 1 to city 2. Europe doesn't have this problem.

That said, there really are some nice benefits of train travel: little to no lines to wait in (show up minutes before departure), no security checks, more eco-friendly, can be cheaper, and I think it's more relaxing than flying.

Solar Rising

According to new reports by the solar industry (ok, that's problematic) the solar industry had a record year in 2011. Lori Zimmer, posting on Inhabit, writes, 

The study, released by GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association showed that the solar industry pulled in $8.4 billion last year. Installation of photovoltaic panels continues to grow, with solar projects totaling 1,855 megawatts in 2011 alone, compared to just 887 megawatts the year before. These projects ranked the United States as the fourth largest solar market in the world, a jump that just a few years ago did not seem possible.

If you can't compete, sue

Via Matt Macari at The Verge, Honeywell International sues Nest Labs over the Nest Learning Thermostat, claiming patent infringements. Honeywell lists a number of patents it contends Nest violates. To me, they read like very very basic concepts related to UI and usability features, nothing extraordinary. How can other companies compete when they could be prohibited from using these features? Here is a sample:

U.S. Patent No. 7,634,504 - this patent was filed in 2006 (issued 2009) and covers displaying grammatically complete sentences while programming a thermostat.

U.S. Patent No. 7,142,948 - this patent was filed in 2004 (issued 2006) and covers a thermostat figuring out and displaying how long it will take to get to a specific setting, like temperature. The Nest definitely has this feature; it's a main selling point of the device.

U.S. Patent No. 6,975,958 - this patent was filed in 2003 (issued 2005) and covers a method of controlling an environmental control system from a remote to adjust the settings of the system.

Read the whole story over at The Verge.

On the Impracticality of the Cheeseburger

Waldo Jaquith:

A cheeseburger cannot exist outside of a highly developed, post-agrarian society. It requires a complex interaction between a handful of vendors—in all likelihood, a couple of dozen—and the ability to ship ingredients vast distances while keeping them fresh. The cheeseburger couldn’t have existed until nearly a century ago as, indeed, it did not.

Great quote. Good article describing his quest to make his own cheeseburger from scratch, all of it from scratch.

 

Windwashing or energy revolution?

WindMade™

WindMade is the first global consumer label
identifying organisations and products that use wind power
in their operations or production

We need an energy revolution not a new branding campaign that replicates Fair Trade Coffee by adding value to a product in a niche market. We are not trying to make renewable energy the Fair Trade Coffee of energy production (value added niche market); we're trying to make it the coffee that hundreds of millions of people drink everyday.

Like the organic label and the Fair Trade label this looks likely to only further product differentiation rather than changing the relationship of mass market production/consumption of energy.

Scaling up

Solyndra might be making the headlines (on page A10 by now) but the overlooked larger story: the solar industry is booming.

There are a few emerging conversations:

1. Should the government be subsidizing the industry?

2. Can US solar manufacturers compete with Chinese ones?

3. Can the US link production and consumption of solar technology, or will we import cheaper Chinese panels for construction of mega solar facilities for domestic consumption?

4. Should we focus on large-scale solar "plants" or should we take Germany's lead (and Jeremy Rifkin's) and push for lateral power, small scale deployment on homes, neighborhoods, and businesses and scale that way?

These centralized, large-scale projects tend to favor the big established corporations, which has the potential to undermine any sort of democratization of energy production, and replicate the energy hierarchies we've known for centuries. The billions in subsidies will go to the big guys, same as with coal and oil.

Lateral deployment seems the way to go.