Amid deeper investigations into how Apple may be using its operations in Ireland as a means for tax avoidance on tens of billions of dollars in profit, the iPhone maker has announced that it will spend nearly $2 billion (€1.7 billion) to develop two new 100% renewable energy data centers in Europe.
The centers — which will use wind power and other green fuel sources — will be located in Athenry, Ireland, and Viborg, Denmark. Apple said that they will power services such as apps in the App Store, Siri and iMessage. Both locations will run on 100 percent renewable energy and Apple said they will have the “lowest environmental impact” of its data centers thus far. It will also be following in the footsteps of companies like Facebook, which has also built sustainable data center operations out in Europe.
Apple CEO Tim Cook said the new developments, which are expected to come online in 2017 and will measure 166,000 square meters each, will create “hundreds” of new jobs in the local areas.
“We are grateful for Apple’s continued success in Europe and proud that our investment supports communities across the continent,” said Cook added. He and other Apple executives are currently on a tour of Europe, making a stop earlier today in Germany at the factory that is making the glass windows for Apple’s new campus.
Apple says it directly employs 18,300 staff across 19 countries in Europe, and “supports nearly 672,000 European jobs, including 530,000 jobs directly related to the development of iOS apps.”
Apple positioning itself as a leader in corporate social responsibility, and leading investor, in Europe’s energy and job markets is not just good business for Apple; it’s also coming at a key moment for other reasons.
The company is under pressure in the EU, and in Ireland specifically, a tax deal with the Irish government is being probed by the European Commission using new powers designed to crack down on so-called ‘sweetheart’ deals with multinational companies. Apple is thought to have some $54 billion in profits sitting offshore that have never been taxed. Meanwhile, the company’s fortunes continue to rise: in January it posted the biggest quarterly earnings of any company, ever. Apple, and other tech companies that could be hit by tax investigations, are fighting back.
At the same time, it looks like Apple may potentially be in the firing line for fines related to data protection. Ireland’s new data protection regular last week said that she would be conducting an audit of the company, along with Yahoo and Adobe.
Ireland’s new data protection commissioner, Helen Dixon, last week defended her office and the perception of Ireland as having a soft touch when it comes to coming down on large companies when they may in violation of regulations. In the last decade, Ireland’s economy has swung towards tech as companies like Facebook, Google and Apple have built up their global headquarters there to take advantage of the countries’ favorable tax policies.
Data protection has become a big issue in Europe, particularly in light of growing concerns on two fronts: online privacy for ordinary consumers, and larger data breaches. Ireland occupies a key role in this discussion because so many companies have chosen the country for their European and global headquarters, and so decisions made there have wide-ranging ramifications.
The data centers in Ireland and Denmark will be state-of-the-art facilities, and in both cases Apple is trying to do more than just develop projects for its own direct benefit — a positive by-product even if you view the moves in a more cynical and opportunistic light.
In Athenry, Apple says it will be building the data center on land that had been used to for commercial forestry, growing and harvesting non-native trees. It will also be undergoing a project to restore native trees to Derrydonnell Forest, and building an outdoor education space.
In Denmark, the center will be built next to one of Denmark’s largest electrical substations, the company says. That will mean no need to build additional generators. And Apple says it will use heat generated from its facility to provide heat to local homes.
“We believe that innovation is about leaving the world better than we found it, and that the time for tackling climate change is now,” said Lisa Jackson, Apple’s vice president of Environmental Initiatives, in a statement. “We’re excited to spur green industry growth in Ireland and Denmark and develop energy systems that take advantage of their strong wind resources. Our commitment to environmental responsibility is good for the planet, good for our business and good for the European economy.”