Come On, Tim, You Can Do Better

Apple Does the Right Thing!

Apple has reversed its EPEAT position in response to feedback like this. VP Bob Mansfield writes, "I recognize that this was a mistake. Starting today, all eligible Apple products are back on EPEAT." Read Mansfield's entire letter.

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"Come On, Steve, You Can Do Better" was the title of a post I wrote almost two years ago, questioning why Apple was such a laggard on environmental issues. Since then, Apple has made considerable progress, which we have consistently recognized in our posts. Two issues still tarnish the company's attempt to polish a greener Apple: its off-shore manufacturing and its decision this week to pull its products from EPEAT certification.

Apple's Chinese manufacturers have a poor environmental record, about which local organizations have been trying to get attention in the west. Western media, which largely focused on poor working conditions and not pollution, have lost interest in the latter since Apple said it was making improvements on the former.

Now, Apple has withdrawn its products from EPEAT certification. This is surprising move, particular to organization that make EPEAT a purchasing standard, since most Apple products qualify for EPEAT's highest (Gold) level. Apple argues that EPEAT is getting out of date, which is not unfounded, but why risk all the ill-will entailed in withdrawing products? Suspicion is that Apple is making design and manufacturing decisions that are causing its products to be less complaint and wants to preempt an EPEAT de-certification by withdrawing in advance.

I own three different Apple products and I see it as absolutely in my interest and in that of our industry to hold Apple accountable. I was saddened to reread my original post and find "…Tim Cook comes off sounding sanctimonious…" This is not the kind of thing about which I want to be insightful.

So, here we go again…

Come on, SteveTim. You're a clever guy with wads of cash, a dedicated workforce, and supportive stakeholders. How hard can it be?

More:
All our posts about Apple & Green ICT.

Original 25 Oct 2010 post

Tech companies dominated the top of Newsweek's "Green Rankings 2009", but Apple came in #133 overall and had an undistinguished middle-of-the-pack position within the tech sector. Its response to this and other mediocre ratings as a green enterprise doesn't do the company or its customers (like me) credit.

Apple has always gotten mixed reviews from the environmental community. Greenpeace, for example, has been unimpressed with Apple's overall enterprise record while defending Apple's newer products against competitors' attacks.

Apple decided to go on the attack in September, with lots of green PR, new content on its web site, and a rare Steve Jobs interview with Business Week. The essence of Job's argument is that is more important to focus on initiatives like effecting change within Apple's customer base than within the company's own operations. "While environmentalists tend to focus on carbon emissions from corporate operations and companies' publicly stated goals to do better, Jobs says Apple wants to set the pace in addressing what he says is a bigger challenge: reducing the amount of power required to run the company's products."

This appears to be an instinctive application of Apple's competitive strategy: don't play someone else's game, define your own. That's god business, but questionable CSR. After all, the 'S' does stand for 'social'.

It also appears to be a return to the old Apple-as-a-religion stance: the virtue of what I'm doing for the masses excuses what I am doing myself. Even Apple Chief Operating Officer Tim Cook comes off sounding sanctimonious in the above-referenced interview article as he belittles the enterprise sustainability efforts of others.

No one will deny that businesses, particularly consumer businesses, are in a unique position to leverage sustainability beyond their own enterprises out into their supply chains, channels of distribution, and customer bases. But Apple is not unique in pursuing external leverage, so why is Apple making it an either-or proposition? Why not do both and set a standard for both internal and customer sustainability leadership?

Come on, Steve. You're a clever guy with wads of cash, a dedicated workforce, and supportive stakeholders. How hard can it be?

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