Apple announced a massive solar array to support its newest data center, perhaps to cover the company’s bad Foxconn press.

Building a data center is quite an undertaking. It requires a lot of resources to build and to maintain, like power, air conditioning, security, network redundancy, and more. And of course, all of those aspects can come with a hefty price tag. Despite the barriers to building, most mammoth companies (like Apple) have their own data centers and see them as necessary for their business models. But, some companies (like Apple) have also decided to be responsible with the impact their data centers have on the environment.

Apple just announced its latest data center will be in Maiden, North Carolina, and it will be one of the most energy efficient data centers ever built. How will the company do this? By also building the largest onsite solar arrays in the United States. The field of solar panels will be 100 acres and will generate 42 million kilowatt hours of power every year.

The official 2012 Facilities Report from Apple details further enhancements that the data center will have. For example, the building will have a chilled water storage and air cooling system, a white roof to maximize solar reflectivity, LED lighting for even more energy efficiency, and a power distribution setup that minimizes wasting power.

The U.S. Green Building council grants certifications based on a LEED scale (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for the level of efficiency a facility achieves. For the Maiden, N.C. designs, Apple received a LEED Platinum certification which is the highest possible rating.

A closer look at the company’s 2012 Facilities Report shows however that the majority of the waste that the company generates isn’t actually from their facilities; it’s from different things like employee transit, or recycling products. To improve efficiency in that regard, Apple has actually been ahead of the curve for quite some time. Years ago the company started a commuter service for employees to reduce the environmental impact their employees and by extension, the company, generates. Additionally, Apple claims that it has made a push to have employees use less water and generate less solid waste at work.

You can get a copy of Apple’s 2012 Facilities Report here.

Some speculate that this new push towards environmental consciousness comes in light of the Foxconn debacle that Apple has been facing for the past few weeks (and has seen in the past few years periodically). To recap: Apple has its products built in Foxconn factories in China (like the majority of major tech hardware manufacturer’s in the United States). While Foxconn has taken heat for many of its practices in recent years, most recently Apple consumers have been signing petitions to combat the sub-par working conditions in the Chinese factory. Accusations have focused against Foxconn and Apple focus on Foxconn employees who have committed suicide, workers who report not being able to use their hands after being forced to work unreasonable hours, and entire work days without breaks.

Two weeks ago, Apple customers got 250,000 signatures on a petition asking Apple to change the working conditions for Foxconn employees that assemble iPhones, iPads, and more. Some protestors have even organized to picket physical Apple stores, all of which so far have reported to be peaceful.

To Apple’s credit, after the incident blew up, the company agreed to a labor audit by the Fair Labor Association and is the first tech company to agree to do so. It raises the question about what kind of factory conditions other big-name companies like Dell, HP, and Sony.

Apple’s been all over the news recently, and subsequently all over our blog. Most recently, Apple released the developer preview of OSX 10.8, named Mountain Lion. Read our blog post recap of the operating system’s newest features.