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Apple wants its manufacturers and supply chain to go green in China

The company has announced two new projects that will boost its mission to rely on clean energy in China.

A worker at Apple's Chengdu factory in China. Apple

Apple is going ever greener in China, with the launch of two clean energy projects designed to reduce the carbon footprints of its supply chain and manufacturing partners.

The first initiative involves building 200 megawatts of solar projects that will produce energy to offset energy expended in Apple's supply chain. The second project will see Apple work with its manufacturing partners to become more energy efficient, installing more than 2 gigawatts of clean energy production over the next few years. It did not reveal what percentage of its energy use that represents.

Between them the projects will prevent 20 million metric tonnes of greenhouse gases pouring into the atmosphere between now and 2020. Apple claims this will have the equivalent effect of taking 4 million passenger vehicles off the road.

Since Tim Cook took over as CEO of the Cupertino, California-based company, Apple has been keen to show the world it has a social conscience. Over the past two years it has been working hard to boost its green credentials, powering data centres with clean energy and buying 36,000 acres of forest in Maine and North Carolina. Apple is one of several tech giants, along with Facebook and Google, trying to make the industry greener, and as the world's most highly valued tech company it's in a strong position to instigate change in electronics manufacturing. Having made steps in its own operations, the next big challenge is to persuade its partners to do the same.

"Climate change is one of the great challenges of our time, and the time for action is now," Cook said in a statement. "The transition to a new green economy requires innovation, ambition and purpose. 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."

Significant parts of Apple's operations take place in China, where much of the world's electronics manufacturing happens. Chinese manufacturing relies heavily on coal for electricity generation, which Apple is hoping to change with its latest initiatives.

Environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has praised the steps Apple is taking toward building a renewably powered supply chain for its products -- something it believes all governments and companies must eventually transition to.

"We have seen Apple lead the sector in building a renewably powered Internet, and hope that Samsung, Microsoft and other IT companies will follow their lead in manufacturing their cutting-edge devices with a 21st century energy supply," Greenpeace USA senior IT sector analyst Gary Cook said in a statement.

Apple has endured a protracted and ongoing struggle to persuade the world that it takes human rights and labour issues in China seriously, but it hasn't ignored environmental issues. This latest set of initiatives complements a series of commitments the company announced in May. These included a multi-year project in conjunction with the World Wildlife Fund to protect 1 million acres of Chinese forestland.

The company has also recently completed the construction of 40 megawatts of solar projects in Sichuan Province that produce more energy than Apple uses in its stores and offices in the whole of China.