Thursday, July 26, 2012

Apples Reverses Again in Reaction to Stakeholder Pressure on Sustainability

Apple, the world's most valuable corporation (valued at $567 billion, 42% more than the second most valuable firm, Exxon), again succumbed to stakeholder pressure because of sustainability concerns. This is a reminder for all executives that failing to monitor stakeholder concerns about sustainability can hurt business.

Last week Apple got slammed for withdrawing 39 of its computer products from Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) registry. EPEAT is a leading global registry for greener electronic products. Reaction by purchasers was switch and included the City of San Francisco banning the purchase of Apple products for its 28,000 employees.  Days later, Apple relented and re-committed to having its products on the registry in an open letter.

Earlier this year, Apple was slammed in a major article in the New York Times about the poor health, safety and working conditions of its suppliers in China.  Negative public reaction was also swift and Apple has now committed to spending millions to improve factory conditions.

This is a stark example of the outer limits of capitalism (at least for consumer products companies) in a world of increased sustainability awareness.  Market forces, not government regulation, drove investment increases in products and suppliers at the cost of profits. 

Last year, Apple earned net profits of $25 billion on revenues of $108 billion and is on track to earn even more this year. Even this profit machine is not imperious to the realities of changing purchasing sentiments by organizations and consumers.

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