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Apple Snubs Green Shareholders, Refuses Sustainability Reporting

| Wednesday January 13th, 2010 | 18 Comments

Fresh from our praise of Apple’s accidental green cred, the computer giant’s board of directors plans to oppose two upcoming shareholder resolutions concerning sustainability. EETimes reports that the board is advising shareholders to reject a call for the company to set up a “board committee on sustainability” as well as a call from accountability group As You Sow which wants Apple to issue a 2010 sustainability report similar to that being issued by Dell, HP, IBM and many others. You can read the whole proxy statement in PDF form here (the relevant stuff starts on page 51).

Both requests seem pretty reasonable and standard these days, so why is Apple recommending rejection? In its opposition statement, the board affirms the company’s commitment to sustainability and rightly points out a number of accomplishments the company has lately made. It also points out that it has already been publishing a great deal of product & carbon footprint information on its environment website, including a stated claim to “consider” the global reporting initiative (GRI) guidelines.

So does Apple just want to “think different?” Or does As You Sow have a legitimate gripe?

John Laumer points out that few people actually read these reports (at least the printed versions) and that putting one together might be a distraction. I suspect that it’s more about the effort required to standardize reporting to match what other companies are doing – comparing apples to oranges… or Dells in this case. Is standardization worth the extra effort? Are Apple’s current reporting initiatives faulty?

What do you think about this one? Are you an Apple shareholder? How would you vote?


▼▼▼      18 Comments     ▼▼▼

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  1. January 13, 2010 at 14:50 pm PDT | elaine cohen writes:

    the excuse that no-one reads sustainability reports is lame and doesnt address the issue. This is about business transparency and accountability . A bit of environmental data on the website doesnt cut it. Sustainability has now been mainstreamed as a better way of doing better business. Apple may not think they have much to lose in the short term, but the issue will not go away. If they dont agree to report now, they will have no choice in the future, when it , in part, will probably be regulated. At that time, the amount of resources they will have to invest will be mush more significant versus what it takes to get their reporting infrastructure ready ahead of time. Souns like someone moved their cheese and they dont care.
    elaine
    http://www.csr-reporting.blogspot.com

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    • January 13, 2010 at 22:59 pm PDT | CarbonFiberFootprint writes:

      @Elaine Cohen

      You carry the persona and the perspective of someone who could negotiate strong budgets for Sustainability Report related projects.

      But, copying everyone else's current regulatory submissive trends is not the back story to every success story.

      “Majority rules, don't work in mental institutions.”
      51% of shareholders are simply not capable of running a major corporation successfully.

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      • January 14, 2010 at 0:05 am PDT | Mark writes:

        Having produced a number of reports for businesses and then being frustrated because no one read them, I can understand Apple's view.

        One of the selling points for publishing reports in the early days was it would add to brand and reputation. Well, how does that work when no one reads the thing? And since when does transparency have to come wrapped in a report?

        The whole approach adopted by the reporting industry is a bit disengenuous to me: firstly GRI is not the only standard, there are still debates around reporting; what sustainability is and isn't is still being refined with thinkers like Werbach adding another leg to the triple bottom line so that context and the nature of the entity comes into view as well and reduces the vanilla approach to sustainability and reporting, and of course, no one has yet come up with whether there should be a differentiated aproach in poverty stricken countries; there remain questions around how and where reporting adds value (for instance, the Ethical Corporation workshop on reporting just a few weeks ago) and still many question how and where adoption of it adds value (is it better to use a report as a management tool rather than a public document that no one reads?). It serves the reporting industry's purpose of course, to make as if there is no debate and everything is settled against particular benchmarks.The takeaway assumption from that is that the world is vanila, and it simply isn't.

        And of course the question we have to still answer is, what good did all that reporting, transparency and accountability bring when the financial world blew up (check how many of the culprits issued the very best, glossiest reports).

        It isn't for analysts and a self-serving industry to decide whether a business should report and how. It's more complex than that. The reporting industry ought to take some time to navigate around the needs of society instead of their own need to present a falsity, that everyone agrees that everything should be done in the same manner, over and over again.

        Caveat: no one is saying standards aren't useful and desirable – I am saying there isn't one effective standard and that most do not deal with complexity (like competitive advantage). I would even say that the standards that exist (and I am saying this as someone who has produced a number of reports) allow businesses to essentially remain unchanged even as they issue benchmark reports. I am saying also that a reporting industry is generally usel, but many have stopped developing the field of sustainability, preferring to pretend that things are done and duted, and they aren't.

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    • January 24, 2010 at 12:51 pm PDT | Bond writes:

      Wouldn't you think that going after the guilty and non-caring would a better use of time and resources. Yes, this is also about business. I like the idea of an environmentally responsible business having the freedom to keep their own house clean and be profitable. There is plenty to do out there. Let's focus on the problem areas.

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  2. January 13, 2010 at 16:02 pm PDT | Nathan writes:

    Part of the issue may be that disclosing some of this information would simultaneously disclose important intellectual property about their material and manufacturing choices. While I'm not happy about Apple's decision, they ARE doing more than almost any other manufacturer (in addition to HP) so I would cut them some slack. I'm more concerned with the companies that do create environmental reports but obviously aren't making the actual decisions and commitments to become more sustainable. They score higher for writing a report than for actually changing their behavior.

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    • January 13, 2010 at 16:42 pm PDT | Elizabeth Krueger writes:

      I am a shareholder, and agree that Apple should get credit for being more sustainable than other manufacturers, whether or not they currently produce a formal “sustainability report”.
      I haven't read the proposals yet, but I will before voting.
      I'd rather see Apple start linking their website reporting to the GRI framework, and incorporate important metrics into their 10-Ks, than have them develop a report “similar to” another company's.

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  3. January 13, 2010 at 22:20 pm PDT | anon123456 writes:

    Apple is not open about their product development, they are a very secretive company, and it has rewarded investors handsomely over the past decade.
    A sustainability report as requested, would compromise the level of secrecy that has worked in their favor for so many years – I see no reason, from a shareholder point of view, for them to change this. From a “green” point of view, you either walk the walk, or talk the talk so to speak, Apple's proven they are walking the walk, by doing it. A report such as this, is nothing but talk, its not binding and therefore meaningless.

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  4. January 13, 2010 at 23:51 pm PDT | Tony T. writes:

    I'm a shareholder. I always wonder about whether specialized sustainability positions are most effective at instituting action on this issue (I think it depends). What I don't wonder about is whether imposing an organizational change by shareholder fiat is going to accomplish much. This kind of effort has to come from within, and has to be done through organizational structures that work within the company, not ones that are inserted through outside action.

    As for the demand for GRI reporting, I'm not sure most shareholders have read one. Apple's environmental reporting (since their new site went up this fall) is more precise than most GRI reports I've read.

    If the sponsors were a little more precise about the outcomes they wanted, and proposed an action that let management figure out how to achieve them, I might get more excited about a shareholder action. For now, I'd like to see the attention leveled at Apple (which has seemingly met with positive results) focused on Sony or Samsung, for example.

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  5. January 14, 2010 at 6:22 am PDT | Mat writes:

    Agree with Apple on this one.

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  6. January 14, 2010 at 5:06 am PDT | sergioa writes:

    Awesome! Thanks

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  7. January 18, 2010 at 11:13 am PDT | Zbig Skiba writes:

    Much of the value of creating a report comes from the discipline required to compile the data, analyze what it means, and determine the best way to present it to the audience. All of these are valuable exercises that provide real value to the corporation. Following the GRI format would probably make it easier for Apple than going it alone — why reinvent the wheel?

    As an aside, I was considering switching (back) from a PC to an Apple, but now I'm reconsidering. I'm not saying that I won't do it, but it's a decision factor for me and certainly others.

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  8. January 28, 2010 at 8:10 am PDT | Bob writes:

    I'm a share holder and an environmentalist but did make the decision to vote against the sustainability report for a lot of the reasons listed here already. I'm happy with the direction they've been taking the company and I see no reason to step in and force a change at this point. We can revisit this later if we need to.

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  9. February 18, 2010 at 5:10 am PDT | Moxy Vote writes:

    Moxy Vote launched a new tool at http://www.moxyvote.com that allows retail investors to make informed decisions on their proxy votes. Two advocates on Moxy Vote are supporting the sustainability resolutions on Apple. Details at: http://www.moxyvote.com/ballots/aapl

    Moxy Vote is cool because investors can just link their brokerage accounts to the site and align them with like-minded advocates. That way, their shares will be voted automatically.

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  10. February 18, 2010 at 13:10 pm PDT | Moxy Vote writes:

    Moxy Vote launched a new tool at http://www.moxyvote.com that allows retail investors to make informed decisions on their proxy votes. Two advocates on Moxy Vote are supporting the sustainability resolutions on Apple. Details at: http://www.moxyvote.com/ballots/aapl

    Moxy Vote is cool because investors can just link their brokerage accounts to the site and align them with like-minded advocates. That way, their shares will be voted automatically.

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  11. October 28, 2010 at 20:08 pm PDT | Concerned Shopper writes:

    I have to laugh at all of the posters who just take Apple’s word for it that they are “sustainable”. There is more to pollution than CO2.

    I wouldn’t own stock in Apple for anything. Check out who the actual sustainable manufacturers are by checking the EPEAT site. Sony has over 800 products listed, even douchey Dell has a few hundred. Your beloved Apple? A measely 31. Oh yeah.. so green… more like Don’t Ask and Believe What We say…

    I do not own any Apple products nor will I until they publish CSR reports beyond their Carbon emissions.

    Nothing like a little Greenwashing…

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    • January 17, 2012 at 5:21 am PDT | ScrewEthics writes:

      Apple are following in the footsteps of economist Milton Friedman who believed that a company’s aim was to maximise profits for its shareholder, anything else was considered a tax on the company and detrimental, in this case with reference to their market position.

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  12. March 28, 2011 at 13:45 pm PDT | Anonomous writes:

    With regards to apple, by not engaging in the creation of a social report they hinder themselves to future markets as the world becomes a more socially concious place. Yes they are market leaders but by refusing to publish a report on their CSR they are open to critism and bad publicity as if they have something bad to hide. All in all I still believe that Apple will soon realize this sooner or later and start to think long term and start following the changing business world instead of waiting for someone to change them.

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  13. November 16, 2011 at 1:03 am PDT | Sperrytops writes:

    @Concernedshopper

    Apple has one of the smallest product lines of any major electronics manufacturer in the world- perhaps the reason for “only” 31 on the EPEAT list.

    Sony has a ridiculous assortment of electronics.

    I feel that standardized reporting is necessary to compare companies more thoroughly (for those that are interested, how few those may be).

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