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EPA administrator Michael Regan (L) on a tour of Apple headquarters led by former EPA head and now Apple executive Lisa Jackson on Aug. 17, 2021. (Apple handout)

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael Regan visited the Apple headquarters Tuesday for a conversation with former EPA head Lisa Jackson, who now serves as the tech giant's leader on environment, policy and social initiatives.

The big picture: Apple, considered a leader in procuring renewable energy for its stores, data centers and offices, is in the midst of tackling its toughest environmental challenge yet: greening its vast, global supply chain. The company is aiming to have a carbon neutral supply chain by 2030.

Driving the news: Regan sat down with Jackson for a fireside chat in the Steve Jobs Theater at One Apple Park to discuss their respective priorities, particularly their shared commitment to environmental justice.

  • The discussion brought together the only two Black leaders of EPA — one past (during the Obama administration), the other present — since that agency was created more than five decades ago.
  • "It makes me happy to know I'm not the last," Jackson said, according to an Apple-provided transcript of the meeting. "And you won't be the last either," she told Regan.

Context: Apple took a step Tuesday toward finding ways to have minority-owned businesses help the company clean up its supply chain, through a three-month "Impact Accelerator" program for an initial group of 15 Black, brown, Native American and Indigenous-owned businesses.

The accelerator program is aimed at pairing companies with Apple experts to help them grow further, and potentially become Apple suppliers.

  • The companies include BlocPower, a Brooklyn-based firm that has retrofitted more than 1,200 buildings in disadvantaged communities across more than two-dozen cities with efficient, electric heating and cooling systems.
  • Another company selected is Volt Energy Utility, which is a utility-scale solar energy development firm based in Washington, D.C.
  • There's also GreenTek Solutions, which focuses on repurposing, refurbishing, recycling and reusing tech products.
  • In addition, there's Oceti Sakowin Power Authority, which is an independent, nonprofit governmental organization comprised of six Sioux tribes to develop tribal renewable energy resources.

What they're saying: Jackson told Axios in an interview that the accelerator companies could help Apple achieve its 2030 supply chain goal if they eventually become suppliers to the tech giant. So far, she said, 110 of Apple's existing suppliers have committed to transitioning their Apple production to 100% clean energy.

  • "You can easily see that with the training, mentoring, the work they're going to do combined with their own business savvy, they're going to be formidable competitors to get Apple contracts and business," she said.
  • Jackson views Apple's lofty sustainability ambitions as good for the bottom line. "We've never approached clean energy or climate solutions as charity work," she said. "This is a business investment like all the other investments that Apple makes."
  • In the wake of last week's IPCC report on the effects of climate change, she said, "It's not just bad business, it's almost dangerous to operate your business in a way that isn't mindful of the impact on our planet and what it's doing to people, to real lives."

Regan told Axios in an interview that the agency is seeking to partner with private companies such as Apple that are pursuing environmental goals that are consistent with the administration's focus on climate and environmental justice.

  • "It's important that we truly understand what companies like Apple are doing so that we can take advantage of this moment, and the resources that are being made available to us," Regan said, referencing the money for environmental justice initiatives contained in the bipartisan infrastructure bill.
  • From the IPCC report, Regan took away a sense of urgency. "You know, the IPCC report was, it was jarring," he told Axios. "I think when you look at what the scientists have laid out, it reinforces what we've always known. But it puts it on an expedited timeframe. And so, every second counts."

Yes, but: While Apple is trying to create products with net zero carbon impact by 2030, it is still vulnerable to the charge that it promotes electronic waste by frequently making changes to its flagship products.

  • This can push technology forward, but also may render recently-purchased laptops or iPhones practically obsolete within just a couple of years, and drive consumers to buy new equipment.
  • This churn can contribute to the problem of electronic waste.

What to watch: Apple is pursuing e-waste recycling programs, including the use of financial incentives to customers who return their old equipment when purchasing something new.

Go deeper

Updated Sep 14, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on post-pandemic recovery for Black-businesses

On Tuesday, September 14, Axios markets reporter Courtenay Brown and business reporter Hope King discussed the economic recovery of Black-owned small businesses, featuring Congressional Black Caucus Chair Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) and U.S. Black Chambers President & CEO Ron Busby. 

Rep. Joyce Beatty addressed how the Congressional Black Caucus and Congress are working together to help Black-owned businesses in a post-pandemic era, the primary challenges that the Black-owned business community endured during the pandemic, and how unemployment rates among Black communities vary across the nation. 

  • On government efforts to provide financial relief to small businesses: “When we think about the value of the Congressional Black Caucus and how we had to work with them, many of us small business owners, I know firsthand as a former small business owner how hard it is to make payroll in a normal time. Here’s the good news: 95% of the Biden-approved PPP loans went to small businesses with 20 or less employees, and that was very helpful.” 
  • On consistently disparate unemployment rates in Black communities: “When we hear, 'Oh, unemployment has gone down and people are working,' well, those numbers were never the same for minority-owned businesses, especially Black-owned businesses. The numbers were always double, and we’re still dealing with that.” 

Ron Busby illustrated the progress of Black small businesses in post-pandemic recovery, how efforts from Federal entities and the private sector have assisted in that recovery, and what types of aid he believes are most essential in helping Black-owned small businesses thrive. 

  • On the current state of recovery for Black-owned businesses: “Businesses that are owned by African-Americans and Black people across the country are starting to feel extremely optimistic about the future, but the challenges still exist. The number one challenge for Black-owned businesses is obviously access to capital.” 
  • On adjusting government-run initiatives to better serve Black communities: “We had to go back and make sure that we adjusted those packages, those stimulus opportunities, to make sure that our Black businesses could participate. As you see new programs being rolled out, you’ll see that the US Black Chamber is there to make sure that small, diverse, and primarily Black firms are included in the conversation, as well as being included in the stimulus packages.”  

Axios SVP of Events & Creative Strategy Kristin Burkhalter hosted a View from the Top Segment with Facebook’s Vice President of Business Engineering and Partner Solutions, Alvin Bowles, who discussed how Facebook is supporting Black-owned businesses through various digital exposure initiatives. 

  • “It’s just important to note that individuals are trying to leverage the digital economy to be able to actually decrease that distance between innovation and execution, and trying to figure out the best way to be able to leverage opportunities to have individuals discover their businesses. We feel like there’s an enormous responsibility that we have. As we head into this holiday season, it’s now more important than ever to really focus on the discovery economy and that every good idea deserves to be found.”  

Thank you Facebook for sponsoring this event. 

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — considered the world's largest by volume. Park officials wrapped the trees in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. And officials said early Sunday protection efforts appeared to be working.

3 hours ago - World

U.S. drone strike victims' families in Afghanistan seek compensation

A relative of Ezmarai Ahmadi, who was killed by a U.S. drone strike, looks at the wreckage of a vehicle that was damaged in the strike in the Kwaja Burga neighbourhood of Kabul on Saturday. Photo: Hoshang Hashimi AFP via Getty Images

Relatives of 10 Afghans killed by a U.S. drone strike in Kabul last month said Saturday they want to see punishment and compensation over the deaths.

Driving the news: The relatives said it's "good news" that the U.S. had "officially admitted" that "they had attacked innocents" in the Aug. 29 strike that killed Zamarai Ahmadi, an aid worker with a U.S.-based group, and nine family members, but they still need "justice," per AFP.