Apple Inc.’s (AAPL) environmental commitment – genuine or greenwashing

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) is well known for its supposed dedication to environmental responsibility, as well as criticisms of it on these grounds. Frequently, the firm’s detractors have said that its commitment is no more than a type of “greenwashing,” with the company pretending an ecological focus that its executives do not actually believe in or even substantially pursue. Being perceived as the “green” computer company could appeal to an affluent, progressive, tech-savvy demographic and thus win the Cupertino firm additional cash.

There are signs of a substantive commitment to sustainability on Apple’s part, though some environmental groups still assert these are no more than “greenwashing” too. The electronics giant’s offices are 75 percent powered by renewables, and the percentage is slated to increase until the company has no emissions and 100 percent renewable sources of power. The company avoids using conflict minerals, and carries out various other initiatives of a similar nature.

AppleThe question can likely be settled by reference to 2014’s shareholder meeting, however. At this meeting, Justin Danhof, a representative of the conservative think tank National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), addressed Apple CEO Tim Cook during the question and answer session. Mr. Danhof’s prepared remarks (PDF) categorically attacked Apple’s “affiliations that may primarily advance social or environmental causes rather than promoting shareholder value,” and declared it to be Apple’s “duty” to resist environmental regulations.

Mr. Cook angrily shot back, “when I think about making our products accessible for the people that can’t see or to help a kid with autism, I don’t think about a bloody ROI, and by the same token, I don’t think about helping our environment from an ROI point of view.” Ultimately, Mr. Cook’s viewpoint prevailed. When Mr. Danhof’s proposal to eliminate environmental initiatives came up for a vote, it was defeated by the other shareholders.

The angry exchange between Mr. Cook and the NCPPR would appear to settle the question as to whether Apple’s commitment to environmental causes is genuine. The think tank believes that Apple’s sustainability ethic is real enough to potentially limit the return on shares of the company, which, objectively speaking, is a strong confirmation that the firm’s environmental initiatives are genuine and pursued strongly enough to have a direct, notable effect on the bottom line. They would hardly use the limited time available during the shareholders’ meeting to address an issue that did not have a substantial reality, rather than being a superficial advertising gimmick.

Mr. Cook’s response is equally instructive. His evident anger, shown by his tone of voice, his manner, and his use of the word bloody, indicates a strong emotional investment in the matter in question. Similarly, his advice to get out of the stock if the return on investment is the investor’s sole reason for buying into Apple Inc. (AAPL) showed that he was not prepared to back down from the environmental initiatives even if it caused shareholders to sell and reduce the value of the firm’s stocks.

The tense scene at Apple’s 2014 shareholder meeting demonstrates that Apple’s environmental commitment is real and substantial, though naturally tempered by pragmatism and the need to keep doing business. Whether this belief in sustainability is an asset or a hindrance to the company is, of course, a matter for the individual investor to decide.