STANFORD -- Lisa Jackson, the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency who now runs Apple's Environmental Initiatives, marked Earth Day on Tuesday night by asking a Stanford audience to challenge the idea that people must choose between the environment and the economy.
Jackson was appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the EPA, where she signed a declaration in 2009 that greenhouse gases endanger public health and welfare. She came to Stanford on Tuesday to talk about how companies and corporations can lead the way on environmental issues and opened her 90-minute presentation with the greeting, "Happy Earth Day, everybody."
To challenge the belief that protecting the environment "will destroy the economy," Jackson said, "only the private sector can prove it."
With government resources growing scarce -- but no shortage of government regulations -- Jackson said businesses such as Apple can help the environment in ways governments cannot by using sustainable materials in their products and facilities, keeping discarded products out of landfills and operating off the grid using wind, solar and other renewable energy sources.
Her talk was part biography; Jackson was raised by a postal worker in New Orleans and planned to become a doctor before she turned to engineering at Tulane University, following revelations about the toxins in New York's Love Canal in 1970.
But a major theme of her talk was the invitation for businesses to lead the way on environmental change while appealing to consumers who don't want to leave an even bigger carbon footprint.
"We have a carbon mess on our hands, and companies and corporations have a responsibility to clean it up," she said. "... Innovation's what's going to get it done."
The majority of her talk was spent highlighting Apple's achievements in building completely energy efficient facilities, especially its data centers.
She mentioned Apple's link to its environmental website three times, showed a film narrated by Apple CEO Tim Cook about Apple's environmentally friendly progress and proclaimed that Earth Day 2014 marks "the beginning of an era of openness and communication about our environmental efforts."
She joined Apple in June, reporting directly to Cook, and "went from being a regulator to being a regulatee."
In that same instance, Jackson said, "I went from being an environmental leader to being an environmental leader."
Contact Dan Nakaso at 408-271-3648. Follow him at Twitter.com/dannakaso.