Quantcast
Insights

How Shareholder Pressure Worked at Apple

This is an excerpt from The Shareholder Action Guide, which will be released by Berrett-Koehler Publishing on Nov. 15. It is available for pre-order on Amazon.com.

A classic example of a negotiation with a notoriously tough corporation that was quite heated (but ended up with a positive change) took place leading up to May 2, 2007, when Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, made the public statement on the Apple website, "Today is the first time we have openly discussed our plans to become a greener Apple. It will not be the last. We apologize for leaving you in the dark for so long."


This was the first time that Apple had publicly addressed the issues of electronics waste and hazardous materials.

How did this change come about? Jobs's reputation as a corporate leader that refused input from anyone—especially his shareholders—is famous. Yet, this announcement came shortly after shareholder resolutions on electronic waste were filed and he had a meeting with the lead proponents. What happened in that negotiation?

Some background first: as the information age got into full swing, it became apparent that a mountain of electronic waste (e-waste) was forming. The manufacture of one computer workstation required more than 700 chemical compounds, about half of which were hazardous, including arsenic, brominated flame retardants, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, lead, and mercury. Tens of millions of computers, monitors and cell phones were being discarded every year, most headed straight to the landfill even though they contained valuable precious metals like gold and silver, as well as problematic ones like lead and cadmium that leached into the water and air.

As You Sow's work on e-waste began in 2003, led by Senior Vice President Conrad MacKerron, who formed a coalition of socially responsible investing allies including Calvert, Green Century, Pax and Walden Asset Management to press major brands like Dell, Hewlett-Packard (HP), IBM and Apple to set e-waste take-back goals. Dell, already under pressure from a grassroots campaign, committed to a take back goal in 2004. Later that year HP, which had an initial take-back program operating, accelerated its goal, pledging to recycle one billion pounds of e-waste by 2007.

But Apple, in the process of moving from innovative creator of the Mac to a global electronics powerhouse dominating the personal electronics market, was typically silent and not open to dialogue. MacKerron reached out to former Vice President Al Gore, who was on the Apple board. Several shareholder proposals were filed. Still, there was no progress. Finally, at the 2006 shareholder meeting, Executive Director Larry Fahn was able to engage Steve Jobs in a friendly discussion as the resolution was presented, and Jobs agreed to meet and see if progress could be made. The shareholder proposal asking Apple to improve its e-waste policies received a decent vote of 10 percent of shares voted.

The Shareholder Action Guide is available for pre-order.

The meeting with Jobs would not occur until almost another year passed. In February 2007 MacKerron, Fahn, research associate Nishita Bakshi, and As You Sow board chair Thomas Van Dyck met with Jobs in his Cupertino office. True to form, Jobs offered brilliant insights but was also caustic, at times berating his visitors for overstepping their boundaries and railing against Greenpeace, which had launched a campaign for Apple to phase out toxins in its components, before acknowledging the recycling problem. The shareholder team held firm that an e-waste take-back policy was good for Apple and that competitors were way ahead.

At one point, Jobs dismissively tossed a presentation the group's staff had spent weeks preparing back across the table at them. It was time to improvise. Van Dyck and other team members launched into a series of questions during the meeting to find out where his top concerns were. They recall asking Jobs if he believed having a greener Apple would sell more products. He said no. The team asked, if Apple was perceived as an environmental laggard, might it sell less products? Jobs said, yes. He felt that his shareholders, employees, and community deserved better from Apple, and he wanted to beat his competitor Michael Dell of Dell Computers, which had already announced strong electronic waste take-back goals. The team saw that he was frustrated by Dell as a competitor, and despite his ire, by the end of the meeting, Jobs agreed to develop a strong recycling commitment. Three months later, the company announced goals as part of a broad set of environmental commitments known as "A Greener Apple."

The move came just a week before shareholders would have voted on another resolution asking Apple to report on improving e-waste take-back efforts, underscoring the importance of shareholder pressure. As You Sow withdrew the proposal in acknowledgement of the company's commitments, and an uncharacteristically chastened Jobs apologized to shareholders for not previously sharing its environmental policy plans when he was quoted in Waste News, on May 14, 2007: "It is generally not Apple's policy to trumpet our plans for the future. Unfortunately, this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple's desires and plans to become greener. So today we are changing our policy."

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
Renewable Energy
Storage solutions, such as Tesla's Powerwall domestic battery, are "moving from the grid to the garage to the landing at home." Tesla Motors

Battery Storage Revolution Could 'Sound the Death Knell for Fossil Fuels'

If we want to accelerate the world's renewable energy transition, we'll have to modernize the electric grid and we'll need much better batteries. Just look at Germany, which generates so much clean energy on particularly windy and sunny days that electricity prices are often negative.

Sure this is good news for a German person's wallet, but as the New York Times noted, "Germany's power grid, like most others around the world, has not yet adapted to the increasing amounts of renewable energy being produced."

Keep reading... Show less

The Future of Food: 8 Business Leaders Investing to End Slaughterhouses

From Silicon Valley tech moguls to business executives and entrepreneurs, these people know that the future of food means not slaughtering animals.

Keep reading... Show less

Oil Spill Spreading in East China Sea 'Now the Size of Paris'

By Andy Rowell

There are increasing environmental and health concerns surrounding the oil spill in the East China Sea from the Iranian registered tanker, the Sanchi, which sank on Monday carrying 136,000 tons, or one million barrels, of a highly flammable oil mix called condensate.

The tanker had burned for a week before exploding after colliding with another ship on Jan. 6, with all 32 crew now presumed dead or missing.

Keep reading... Show less

‘Tide Pod Challenge’ Highlights Danger of Colorful Laundry Packets

By Samara Geller

An unbelievably dumb and extremely dangerous dare has gone viral on social media. It's the "Tide Pod Challenge": biting down on the small, colorful—and potentially poisonous—packets of liquid laundry detergent until they burst in your mouth. Children, teens and young adults are posting videos of themselves taking the challenge—with the gagging, spitting and coughing that follows.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Popular
Arizona lost out on $27 million of revenue during the 2013 government shutdown, with the Grand Canyon alone amounting for $17 million of it. Anna Irene / Flickr

National Parks, Monuments May Remain Open But Unstaffed if Government Shuts Down

You might want to reconsider your plans if you intend to visit a national park this weekend. While the park might be open, there probably won't be any rangers on site, which could pose a serious risk to safety.

The Trump administration is reportedly planning to keep many national parks and monuments open if the government shuts down on Friday, the Washington Post reported. The move is meant to avoid the public outrage sparked by the closure of parks and memorials during the 2013 shutdown.

Keep reading... Show less
Adventure

Divers Discover World’s Largest Flooded Cave

Diving enthusiasts, could this be your next great adventure?

Archaeologists and divers with Gran Acuífero Maya (GAM)—a project dedicated to the study and preservation of the Yucatan peninsula—claim to have discovered the world's longest underwater cave just outside of Tulum, Mexico.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Pexels

3 Reasons to Be Hopeful About Our P​lanet in 2018

By Elizabeth Sturcken

Feeling down about our planet in 2018? Don't!

There are many reasons to be hopeful around environmental action in the new year—and if the following developments don't make you feel better, I've prescribed some action steps at the end that are guaranteed to set you on a healthier, happier path.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!