Apple has strengthened its commitment to sustainability in recent years: the company has pledged to power its data centers with 100 % renewable energy, is using solar and geothermal power at a new factory in Arizona, and has become more transparent about its manufacturing supply chain and energy use.
On Friday, CEO Tim Cook added another reason that people who care about sustainability can start thinking of him and Apple as leaders – he stared down an anti-environment, climate denying group who challenged Apple’s increasingly green record, and told them to get lost.
The group, the National Center for Public Policy Research, confronted Cook at Apple’s annual shareholder meeting, charging that the company’s embrace of renewable energy was bad for business.
Before getting on to Cook’s response, which was pitch perfect, it’s worth noting exactly who the NCPPR is, since the vanilla-sounding name doesn’t offer much. The NCPPR is a front group for fossil fuel companies that has spent decades seeding lies to create doubt about the reality of global warming. It received $445,000 in funding from Exxon Mobil from 1998 to 2008. More recently, the front group has marched in lockstep with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a corporate bill mill that has produced model state legislation for discriminatory voter ID laws, Stand Your Ground gun laws, and attacks on clean energy. In 2012, when many corporations were dropping their ALEC memberships in response to the controversy surrounding its promotion of Stand Your Ground laws in the wake of the Trayvon Martin shooting, NCPPR actually tried to recruit them back on ALEC’s behalf.
At Apple’s shareholder meeting on Friday, an NCPPR representative submitted a resolution asking that Apple ditch its sustainability efforts to focus only on its profit margin. Cook defended Apple’s environmental initiatives as economically sound, before adding that even if they weren’t, the company would implement them anyway. If the NCPPR doesn’t like it, they can get out of Apple’s stock, Cook concluded. From Mashable, and MacObserver:
“We do a lot of things for reasons besides profit motive,” the CEO said. “We want to leave the world better than we found it.”
“When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind,” he said, “I don’t consider the bloody ROI.” … “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”
Cook could have added countless other reasons that sustainability is good for Apple’s business. Renewable energy is increasingly cheaper than coal, nuclear and gas power, so Apple’s investments are lowering its bills in the long run.
Perhaps more importantly, Apple’s customers simply expect the company to be green. Meeting that expectation is one of the ways that Apple has become the most popular company, with some of the fiercest brand lk oyalists, in the world. NCPPR’s notion that Apple’s environmental record runs contrary to its financial success is simply laughable – in fact, it’s integral to it.
Cook’s smackdown won’t make the same directly positive environmental impact as Apple’s investments in clean energy. But taking the stand he took does matter, and not just because it feels good to watch the clowns at NCPPR publicly embarrassed, though it does. Apple is widely recognized as one of the most innovative and profitable companies in the world. When its CEO vigorously defends the notion that sustainability is profitable – and that even if it wasn’t, it would still be worth doing – that sends a loud message to the rest of the business community.
As Apple is proving, the smart money is with sustainability. Other CEOs would serve their companies and shareholders well to follow Cook’s example.