Perhaps it was fitting that when I read of Steve Jobs’ passing on Wednesday morning, I did so on my much-loved iPad. Like many others I was saddened by the news, for all the reasons that have been blogged and tweeted over the last seven days. I have and will remain a huge admirer – and I have to confess there is more than a little of Mr Jobs in Ethan Rae, the reclusive billionaire who Uma Jakobsdóttir approaches in The Human Race to launch her device that will stop global warming.
Ironically, the one area that Apple has never dominated and really should is the green one. In fact when I blogged recently about the Carbon Disclosure Project, I was quite shocked to learn that Apple had refused to participate. Add to this the well-documented environmental issues alleged to exist within the Apple supply chain, and perhaps the company is not as green as we might expect for a company with a reputation for innovation.
When it comes to Apple and the environment, does any of this matter to the brand? In one sense, no. The numbers speak for themselves. At the time of writing nearly 300 million iPods, just shy of 400 million iPhones and 30 million-odd iPads have been sold. With such market domination, perhaps Apple believes it can ignore the “green brigade”.
You might argue that the environment issue has nothing to do with the business’ priorities. Apple’s focus is design and marketing. The dirty bit – manufacturing – is outsourced overseas, to others. But Apple has done a poor job of managing its outsourced work. Such a disregard for wider responsibilities is both naïve and wrong.
It reminds me of another famous American brand with a very similar business model. Nike ignored the back end practices and, following a Greenpeace campaign, became mired in bad PR and changed its practices. I have to say I would be pleased to see Apple do the same.
Of course you could argue that Apple and the environment are not easy bedfellows, because Apple’s entire business model is anti-green. Convincing millions of us – me included – to buy things we never knew we needed is mass consumerism at its most extreme. True, most Western firms (particularly consumer ones) do that in one form or another. Yet somehow I expect better of Apple and their enigmatic leader. Perhaps that is the real triumph of the Apple brand: that I assumed it would be progressive in every field. Such is the cult of personality. After all, why should I hold Steve Jobs up on a higher pedestal than, say, the CEO of Shell, HSBC or Sainsburys?
And so the question remains: what am I, the reluctant environmentalist , going to do about it? Do I care deeply enough not to buy the products? Gulp. That is where Apple has, for the time being, done its job. I didn’t own an Apple product until 2004 (a beautiful, ice-blue mini iPod), but I was immediately addicted. More recently I fell in love with the iPhone and then the iPad. Next on my shopping list: the iPhone 4S…
I am papering over the cracks. I have, for instance, taken the first steps to reduce my energy consumption. Just this week I signed up for electricity from the only energy company in the UK to generate 100 per cent of its electricity from renewable energy.
Perhaps the only thing that will stop me buying Apple products is my suspicion that with the loss of Steve Jobs, Apple has become little different from all the other faceless, corporate juggernauts out there.
Image credit: Y.