The private sector can and should innovate and unleash a wide range of environmental solutions. That was the message Lisa Jackson, former administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), brought to Stanford on April 22 for the second annual Stephen H. Schneider Memorial Lecture in honor of the Stanford professor, Stanford Woods Institute senior fellow and world-renowned climate scientist who died in 2010.

“Policy solutions should always follow the technology solutions,” Jackson told a large audience in Stanford’s Memorial Auditorium, including former Deputy Secretary of the Interior David Hayes and former Secretary of Energy Steven Chu, both currently professors at Stanford. “California is a great example. The solutions are there. The policy needs to follow.”

Jackson, a public servant for 26 years, joined Apple last June as vice president of environmental initiatives. She devoted much of her talk to describing Apple’s efforts to live up to one of its mantras: “We want to leave the world better than we found it.” Jackson highlighted the company’s environmental initiatives such as completely powering data centers with renewable energy, working to eliminate hazardous chemicals from products and starting a recycling program that promises to recycle all Apple products responsibly. In honor of Earth Day, the company unveiled new content on its environmental responsibility website, and an inspirational video narrated by Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“I think we have to challenge the idea that every advance in environmentalism must come at the expense of the economy,” Jackson said. She noted that some of the best environmental breakthroughs that have led to new national policy began at the local level.

In describing her journey from public to private sector, Jackson recounted studying at Tulane University to become a scientist when “a really cool piece of equipment really changed my trajectory.” It was the TI-30, an inexpensive scientific calculator manufactured by Texas Instruments that was given to young women who attended an engineering workshop. That experience prompted Jackson to become a chemical engineer.

She was still planning to work in the private sector when she learned about the Love Canal near Buffalo, N.Y., where companies were dumping toxic chemicals. “I do remember thinking when I was an undergrad that if chemical engineers make these products, who better to clean them up than chemical engineers?” she recalled.

She joined the EPA in Washington, D.C., in 1987 as a staff engineer, and didn’t get a significant promotion for 13 years. After that, she moved up through ranks and became administrator under President Obama in 2009. Among Jackson’s significant achievements were overseeing the EPA’s response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill and doubling fuel efficiency requirements for cars by 2025.

During that time, Jackson had a formative experience that reinforced her determination to address climate change: driving her mother out of the clutches of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. “Katrina, for me, was a lot of lessons rolled into one,” Jackson said, noting that as storms like Katrina become more frequent, “I worry about the resources we’re going to need to recover.”

Despite this, Jackson called herself an “optimist” and said she thinks younger people understand the need to protect the earth. “How can I saw this nicely?” she said. “Newer consumers have a pretty good understanding of science. … [One day] we won’t have a debate about climate science. We will have a debate about solutions.”