Clean PR

Clean Tech. PR. Sustainable Business.

The PR behind A Greener Apple

Todd Woody at Business 2.0 covered Steve Jobs’ open letter about Apple’s approach to green and concludes his post on Green Wombat with this question for me:

Why Apple left increasingly eco-conscious customers unenlightened about what appears to be years of work to remove toxic chemicals from its computers and gadgets remains a public relations strategy best plumbed by bloggers like David Swain at Clean PR.

I’m no Apple expert and I haven’t followed them in the press much more than the average person. That said, I’ll speculate a bit about why a company like Apple – with one of the most devoted and loyal user communities on the planet – would leave customers to debate the eco-friendliness of its fearless leader.

  • The overflow of green coverage in the past 6-10 months makes it easy to forget that just a year or two ago, Apple and its competitors didn’t have to deal much with mainstream perception relating to environmental topics. Whether or not they were innovating internally, when it came to communicating to the outside, not much needed to be done other than showing that they were complying with industry regulations. Apple appears to be slow but in relative terms, are they that far behind?
  • GE paved a path for big companies with its ecomagination campaign and it’s only a few years old. Their campaign has been a hit and it has given other companies the confidence to do something similar. Gauging from several of the big tech companies I’ve talked to, a lot of the best stories with the most history and depth have yet to be told. We’re just getting started and that’s a good thing. Many of these companies have the luxury to tell their story when they’re ready. Apple appears to have been pulled in to this — by its users, Greenpeace, etc.
  • Like many companies with loyal communities of users, Apple’s priorities relating to this specific topic may have been more in-line with meeting the needs of its core audience than the broader public and shareholders. The response wasn’t overly speedy, but the community spoke up, and now Apple has issued its response. If you’re going to issue a highly anticipated response, what better way to do it than to show some transparency and go above and beyond the competition? Whether or not they actually went above and beyond I’ll leave for the community to decide.
  • Most companies are still not aligned around sustainability and the environment which can lead to endless delays in getting a story out. Rick Walker of Siemens could be right suggesting that we need a Chief Sustainability Officer to bring all of the pieces together. I’ve talked about the full circle approach suggested by McKinsey. The business leaders need to partner with their communications teams on this. Maybe someone more knowledgeable about Apple’s organization structure can share what processes the Apple communications team had to go through to uncover and then share their story.

Apple has opened a door. Let’s see what comes through it next. They are clearly an innovative company. Innovation with the environment shouldn’t be a response to some bad publicity. Apple should show by example how companies in their industry and other industries can build more sustainable products and adopt better business practices. Hopefully they don’t silo this into a debate with the competition about who is doing it better – that won’t get us too far. And I expect Apple’s opinionated community won’t be too happy if Apple doesn’t step up and lead.

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May 3, 2007 - Posted by | clean tech, green marketing, public relations, sustainable business, Uncategorized

3 Comments »

  1. Dave – thoughtful response to a development that will almost certainly have an impact on Apple’s industry peers and beyond. To varying degree, I think all the factors you mention could have contributed to the timing of this move.

    I’d also suggest that once a potentially volatile issue rises to the level of shareholder resolution – in this case, the one filed and subsequently retracted by Trillium Asset Management – the response is bound to accelerate. I don’t know Trillium or its stake in Apple from a hole in the wall but given the current sensitivity around all things “green” I’d guess Jobs and Co. aimed to address this before it became bigger and potentially less controllable.

    Comment by Joseph Kingsbury | May 17, 2007 | Reply

  2. […] Click here for the rest of David’s very trenchant observations about the value of–and the push/pull towards–companies being green. […]

    Pingback by Christy And Ben’s Blog » Blog Archive » The Value of Being Green | July 9, 2007 | Reply

  3. Good point that this is a relatively “new” issue for most companies.

    Comment by Daniel Berch | July 17, 2007 | Reply


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