Apple’s Ethical Watershed?

A window of opportunity and an open letter to CEO Tim Cook.

Is it me or is the current focus on Apple’s supply chain a different tune than we’ve heard before?

For years now many from responsible business community have rumbled in frustration at Apple’s lack of commitment and often blatant avoidance of sustainability issues.  Most of these professionals have ironically also either converted to Apple Macbooks / iPhones / iPad or continued their use throughout the regular ethical issues arising. I go to a few industry conferences and they’re often more like a Halloween orchard with the amount of glowing Apple logos on show.

Let’s be honest Apple products look damn good, mostly do the job you’d expect and you can’t argue with the almost religion-like power of the brand they’ve created under the stewardship of the recently departed Steve Jobs. For full disclosure I was once an Apple fan, during my days producing copious amounts writing, media materials and marketing documents at Everton FC, before I knew better about the details of the business operation and products themselves.  I adored their fanatical ethos about providing the most simple, usable interface which is pure beauty at times, especially compared to Windows Vista and earlier incarnations. I had the usual file format sharing problems but that was nearly ten years ago and much has changed.

I am beginning to sense the sustainability sharks circling. Do the collective tech, media and sustainability communities feel like the change in CEO is an opportunity for change? Is Tim Cook allowing the Apple ship to sail a different course or is it a more premeditated departure than that? Without the imposing nature of Steve Jobs personally controlling every aspect of the business are we seeing Tim Cook imposing his own direction and values, or is this more evidence of the wider tipping point for mainstream sustainability? Are the corporate hiding places disappearing?

It’s early days but something is different. We’re seeing coverage of supply chain issues in mainstream media, beaming negative and challenging opinions directly into Apple’s core mainstream market. That market is also a maturing generation Y with greater disposable income to flex. This isn’t the loud minority of professional do-gooders or campaigners any longer.

The biggest frustration for me has always been the wasted potential. If Apple ever decides to be the leader it should be and creates a blockbuster iCSR / iSustainability (or whatever über cool name they conjure up) strategy and multiply by the inevitable amazing marketing prowess they control, they could substantially and genuinely change the world for the better.

An open letter:

Dear Tim Cook

You have inherited a window of opportunity to leave a global legacy far beyond that Steve Jobs provided the foundation for.  You will be guaranteed support, lots of it – a whole planet’s worth.

Please create the ultimate brand. You’re already half way there.

Take one step, make it bold and unleash the potential to change the world.

Kind regards

David Connor (optimist and potential convert)

5 thoughts on “Apple’s Ethical Watershed?

  1. Gareth Kane

    David, I think you are right about Cook’s attitude. Very welcome it is too, given the profile and sheer buying power of the company.

    However Apple was always saddled with the whole Foxconn affair because they had such a high profile – tall poppy syndrome. Foxconn produces for most of the consumer electronics brands and it wouldn’t surprise me if the computer you read this on or the non-Apple phone in your pocket was produced by them too!

    When Greenpeace first pulled Apple up on environmental issues, Jobs, after a slight prevarication, did launch a massive green programme which pushed Apple well up the performance scale. They also quit the US Chamber of Commerce when the Chamber started resisting climate change legislation.

    And yes, I’m typing this on a MacBook Pro – never owned a Windows computer!


    1. davidcoethica Post author

      Hi Gareth

      A very valid point about Foxconn / the rest of the tech industry. Like all market leaders Apple are the easy target for attention to grab media headlines.

      But there does feel like a change of tone from Tim Cook.

      What do you think we could see from Apple as possible (hopeful) next sustainability moves?


  2. Tom Raftery


    Good questions – I’m optimistic about Apple (and the wider industry consequently) because a spotlight has been shone on them, and it is Cook who is responsible for building up Apple’s extremely efficient (if not very sustainable) supply-chain.

    If anyone can change it, he can.


  3. Vipul

    Hi David,

    With the change in management the organization has changed – no longer blatantly ‘it’s not our problem’ but the PR machine has been brougt in to better effect as evidenced by a recent blog on the guradian talking up Apple without actually changing anything.

    A recent Private Eye article sums them up quite nicely

    I suspect that, like all other industries, nothing will change until it becomes a significant disadvantage to continue being immoral and unsustinable (just look at the race by manufacturers to catch up on car sharing schemes).




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