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Tim Cook says businesses should tackle climate change & equal rights proactively, not wait for governments

Tim Cook speaking at Bocconi University on Tuesday. Image via Twitter.

Large corporations should actively wield their power and influence for the good of the planet and its people, rather than sitting back and waiting for governments to take the lead, Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook said in a speech at Italy's top business school on Tuesday.

Cook addressed the topics of climate change and equal rights while speaking at Bocconi University, where he said that the business community shares the responsibility of finding solutions for such problems. In select quotes taken by the Associated Press, Cook made it clear he felt it was not enough for companies to simply let the government alone address such problems.

"The challenges are simply too great for businesses to stand on the sideline," Cook said, noting that climate change affects supply chains, energy crises and economic stability at a global level.

In the speech, Cook cited two two newclean energy programs Apple launched last month with the goal of reducing the carbon footprint of its Chinese manufacturing partners. The two programs are said to save over 20 million metric tons of greenhouse gas pollution, roughly equivalent to taking 4 million passenger vehicles off the road for a year.

Cook said the programs, which seek to produce 2.2 gigawatts of solar power and other renewable energy by 2020 is enough to supply power to 2.6 million households in China. Longer term, the company wants to run worldwide entirely on renewable energy and Cook says they're 87 percent of the way towards that goal.

Ironically, one thing that might be holding back more progress in this area is the continued uptick in overall Apple device sales. A report earlier this year cited an increase of 400,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in fiscal year 2014 versus the previous year, with total manufacturing emissions actually increasing by 5 percent.

Still, the company is committed to continued progress in this area.

"We don't want to debate climate change," the company said at the time. "We want to stop it."

As CEO of the world's most valuable company, Cook has used his considerable influence to stump for a number of issues impacting global society, including topics like user privacy, as well as equal protection for the LGBT community. He touched on equal rights again on Tuesday, saying that Apple hires employees regardless of their race, appearance, sexual orientation, gender identification, or religion.