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Can Lisa Jackson improve Apple's green reputation?

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa Jackson testifies before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Capitol Hill May 24, 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Lisa Jackson has a new job. She’s vice president for environmental initiatives at Apple. Jackson will report directly to CEO Tim Cook.

Jackson isn’t the first environmental regulator to end up at a Fortune 500 company. But this is the first time a former EPA head has been hired by a high-tech giant. Apple is coming under increasing scrutiny for its use of toxic chemicals, fossil fuels and overseas workers.

“Any company that gets as much market share as Apple does and has such an extended manufacturing trail or network, is going to have environmental issues,” says former EPA administrator William Reilly.

Reilly, who served under the first Bush administration, says Apple made a good move. “When a company hires somebody like Lisa Jackson, they are very conscious of their public reputation and the fact that she will add luster to the brand. There’s no question. And she also does know the game. She does know regulation and she does know policy.”

But Reilly says that doesn’t mean this high-profile hire is greenwashing. Even Greenpeace, a group that has protested Apple’s environmental practices, called the Jackson hire a “bold” corporate move.

“She’s not going to come to Apple to maintain the status quo, so we’re actually hopeful this will be a new environmental commitment by Apple,” says Greenpeace’s Gary Cook.  

Cook says high-tech’s biggest environmental problem is dirty energy. According to Greenpeace, if the Internet were a country, it would be the fifth largest electricity consumer in the world. Apple has promised to fuel its growing network of data servers with solar, wind and other renewables instead of fossil fuels.

But Greenpeace also wants Apple to use its market muscle to force utilities to sell more renewable power. “They have been very disruptive in other economic sectors as they’ve continued to grow," he says of Apple. "And we actually need some positive disruption in the energy sector.”

About the author

Sarah Gardner is a reporter on the Marketplace sustainability desk.

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