Why Apple bought a forest

April 17, 2015, 5:27 PM UTC
Photo credit: (c)EcoPhotography

I once saw Al Gore pantomime a Paul Bunyan-size giant stomping across Brazil, destroying old-growth rainforest at the rate of 1.5 acres a second.

That forest-destroying lumberjack came to mind when I heard about Apple’s plan to reduce the company’s “virgin paper footprint” by buying a forest.

Two forests, actually — 3,600 acres in North Carolina and 32,400 acres in Aroostook County, Maine, a place with almost as many o’s as people.

We are in the midst of one of the greatest land transfers in history,” Apple VP Lisa Jackson and Conservation Fund president Larry Selzer wrote Thursday in Medium. “In the last 15 years, we’ve already lost 23 million acres of forestland that provided the pulp, paper, and solid wood material for products we all use. That’s roughly an area the size of Maine. As land continues to be sold and change hands at an alarming rate, an estimated 45 million more acres are currently in the crosshairs of development.”

Apple won’t say how much paper it uses each year to make boxes for iPhones, iPads, Macs and Apple TVs. Nor will it say where it got that paper.

It will say that last year 80% of the paper it used came from certified sustainable forests or recycled sources. And that the output of the two working forests it purchased and gave to the Conservation Fund to manage is the equivalent of 50% of the virgin paper the company used in 2014.

But to be clear, this is a set-aside. Apple won’t be harvesting trees from its forests in Maine and North Carolina. It will continue to buy paper from wherever it’s buying it now.

Basically, this is a considered use of Apple’s excess cash to shore up supply. It’s purchasing forests to save half as many trees as it’s cutting down each year.

The long-term plan is to become 100% sustainable. When that might happen the company is not prepared to say. But at least it’s trying.

Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter at @philiped. Read his Apple (AAPL) coverage at fortune.com/ped or subscribe via his RSS feed.

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