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Stefan Deeran

Stefan Deeran

Posted: January 15, 2009 05:59 PM

Bad Apples

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This article also appeared in the Exception.

Apple's Board of Directors, which counts Al Gore as a member, has released a proxy statement to the Securities and Exchange Commission opposing a shareholder proposal which would require the full disclosure of Apple's sustainability strategy and carbon footprint.

The shareholder proposal was issued by As You Sow, a corporate responsibility watchdog group and co-sponsored by the New York City Office of the Comptroller and the Green Century Equity Fund. The website GreenBusiness first reported on Apple's position against the proposal.

"It is notable when you have Al Gore on your board and he is a major proponent of controlling carbon footprints. Your company should be a leader in disclosure on climate issues" Conrad MacKerron, Director of Corporate Social Responsibility Programs at As You Sow told the Exception.

The sustainability proposal requested that Apple define its sustainability strategy and fully disclose its carbon footprint based on the standards of the Global Reporting Initiative's (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Guidelines and the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP). Over 2700 companies issued sustainability reports in 2007, including Apple rivals Dell, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard.

Apple's Board argued there was already enough environmental information on the company's website.

In the proxy statement, Apple's Directors wrote "The Board believes that the proposal has been substantially addressed and publication of an additional report would produce little added value while requiring unnecessary time and expense." Furthermore, "expanding into additional areas of disclosure to prepare the sustainability report" would be against the best interests of company shareholders, according to the Board's recommendation.

The sustainability proposal's sponsors were not convinced that the information on Apple's website had met industry standards for transparency.

"Their information on their website is not as forthcoming as the reports of their peers" said MacKerron. "They didn't answer questions about their overall plans to reduce their carbon footprint. They don't have an annual CSR report where they talk about their goals and plans to deal with social and environmental issues."

Kristin Huguet, an environmental spokesperson at Apple disagreed that the information the company has provided was insufficient. Huguet told the Exception that environmental data corresponding to the GRI indices was available on Apple's website.

The Board's decision was another chapter in a long stand-off between green groups and Apple. Apple's refusal to quickly tackle electronic waste and reduce hazardous chemicals prompted Greenpeace to launch a campaign called "Green My Apple" in 2007. The campaign eventually earned a response from Apple CEO Steve Jobs but has also contributed to a lingering distrust between Apple and environmental stakeholders.

"They hated to be called out publicly" said Casey Harrell, an electronics industry analyst at Greenpeace, who has worked with Apple on its environmental issues. Apple now "talks less and less" about its environmental plans, according to Harrell, who described ongoing discussions with the computer company as "terse" when compared to other electronics firms.

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