Apple today announced a near doubling of its suppliers that have committed to using 100 percent renewable energy for their work connected to the tech giant, bringing the total to 44 companies.*

Apple hit its 100 percent renewables target for its own operations in April of last year. Now it’s expanding to what it calls "Scope 3" emissions: those incorporated in a company's value chain. Manufacturing accounts for 74 percent of Apple's carbon footprint, the company said.

Colin Smith, a senior solar analyst at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, said Apple’s move is part of a larger trend of pushing affiliated companies to follow their example by pursuing renewables commitments.

“We are now moving into a world where corporates are enabling their supply chain and their partners and customers,” said Smith.

Apple's push for more renewables within its supply chain means it is already 1 gigawatt beyond the target of 4 gigawatts it established for 2020.

“We’ve made it a priority to hold our suppliers accountable to the same environmental standards we observe and hope that our collaboration will show others what is possible,” said Lisa Jackson, vice president of environment, policy and social initiatives at Apple, in a statement announcing the moves.

Apple said it has expanded outreach and education for its suppliers on procuring renewables, and uses a "Clean Energy Portal" designed to help them find solar and wind resources.

Facing up to the realities of steep targets

Large corporate and industrial customers like Apple are now a driving force in the renewables market; in 2018 C&I customers procured a record amount of renewables — 2.9 gigawatts of solar in the U.S. alone, according to WoodMac. And while that’s happening in the private sphere, Smith said it could soon translate to a more concerted push toward sustainable policies at the federal and subnational level. 

“If these big corporates start taking strong leadership positions, they could be one of, if not the, driving force for renewables in a lot of markets,” said Smith. “If Apple, Microsoft and Amazon Web Services start lobbying for laws that enable more renewables, we could see huge changes happen in a short time.” 

Data on Apple’s lobbying from OpenSecrets shows the company did indeed spend millions in 2017 and 2018 to lobby around issues like efficiency standards and electricity policy. 

Pushing forward policy is also already in Jackson’s wheelhouse. For several years of the Obama administration, she served as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Apple’s announcement comes on the heels of a critical look at Amazon’s interest in oil and gas and questions about progress on its 100 percent renewables commitment. The same day that story was published, Amazon announced involvement in three wind projects.

Smith said companies like Amazon should be held accountable for meeting their targets (even if self-imposed), but that the conversion to wind and solar will take time.   

“Corporations like Apple and Amazon need to be held accountable to their 100 percent renewable pledges, but realize that it will not be an overnight switch,” he said.

“These companies also have to balance the realities of switching to 100 percent renewables. The energy transition this country is going through will not be overnight; we will see a switch from coal to natural gas first as more renewables get built out. The need for reliable baseload power to keep their operations running is real.”

*Story originally said 23 companies would use 100 renewables for Apple-related production. That was based on old figures. Story has been corrected.