Apple, which hasn’t always had a peachy relationship with the environmental community, is winning plaudits for its hiring of Lisa Jackson, who recently departed after a four-year stint as administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

CEO Tim Cook let this cat out of the bag on Tuesday in an interview at All Things D’s D11 conference. He said he couldn’t remember what title he gave Jackson, but that she would report to him. He revealed the hire in a lengthy defense of Apple’s environmental credentials.

Lisa Jackson apple
Lisa Jackson with the president and other officials during a Gulf oil spill briefing in 2010 (image via the White House)

“She’s going to be coordinating a lot of this activity across the company and looking for ways to take what we’re doing even to another level,” Cook said. “From products to facilities and all the things that we do.”

Jackson navigated a difficult path during her EPA tenure as the Obama administration pursued tougher standards on air, water and climate change with enough vigor to irk Republicans but, at times, not enough to please hardcore greens.

In an email to the Washington Post, Jackson had this to say about her new job:

Apple has shown how innovation can drive real progress by removing toxics from its products, incorporating renewable energy in its data center plans, and continually raising the bar for energy efficiency in the electronics industry. I look forward to helping support and promote these efforts, as well as leading new ones in the future aimed at protecting the environment.

If the Jackson hire was meant in part to burnish Apple’s green reputation, it appeared to be working. One of groups that’s often held Apple’s feet to the fire, Greenpeace, announced itself quite pleased with the hire.

“Apple has made a bold move in hiring Lisa Jackson, a proven advocate with a track record of combating toxic waste and the dirty energy that causes global warming, two of Apple’s biggest challenges as it continues to grow,” Greenpeace  Senior IT Analyst Gary Cook said in an emailed statement. “Jackson can make Apple the top environmental leader in the tech sector by helping the company use its influence to push electric utilities and governments to provide the clean energy that both Apple and America need right now.”

Tax issues have put Apple in the headlines recently, but the company has captured some good press for its environmental efforts. As we reported, its recent annual environmental report included a laundry list of achievements, including boosting the amount of renewable energy generated at its North Carolina data center (which drew praise from Greenpeace).

In his D11 appearance, Cook portrayed Apple as a leader on the environment:

We’ve been focused on the environment a long time. We were the first and still the only, I believe, consumer electronics company to eliminate toxins from all their products. We ship the most energy-efficient products. We are running our data centers with 100 percent renewable energy. We own the largest solar farm of any non-utility in the United States – that’s in North Carolina – and the largest fuel cell…. And so we’ve always felt deeply about leaving the environment better than we found it.

Of course, there were things Cook didn’t mention: the 37-page 2013 Supplier Responsibility Progress Report the company issued in March that detailed 393 inspections, including 55 environmental audits, a dramatic increase in audits for the tech giant, for instance.  And who can forget the EPEAT debacle? Presumably, Lisa Jackson’s new boss will be expecting her to do better on those fronts.