Green my apple image

Steve Job’s open letter on Apple’s environmental policy is an important moment, for several reasons.

First, six months ago, it looked as if Apple thought the issues was insignificant – even ‘trivial’, as an engineer would say.

Second, it’s another example which shows that organisations have to be transparent about what they’re doing. People are no longer prepared to believe that you’re doing good just because of brand and reputation.

Third, it suggests that a fairly cool NGO with a decent case will win against a cool brand if it’s organised.

Fourth, it was a case study, as colleagues observed (thanks, Rachel), in how to use the new public content tools as campaigning tools.

The background, of course, is that Greenpeace first met Apple almost three years to discuss its environmental shortcomings, but the campaign was launched only last Septemnber. They gained momentum through the autumn, partly through some old-fashioned campaigning photo ops during the computer expo season.

Jobs’ letter acknowledges that they should have been more transparent sooner – even while implying (reading not very closely between the lines) that they didn’t really know what their record was until provoked to investigate.

Upon investigating Apple’s current practices and progress towards these goals, I was surprised to learn that in many cases Apple is ahead of, or will soon be ahead of, most of its competitors in these areas. Whatever other improvements we need to make, it is certainly clear that we have failed to communicate the things that we are doing well. It is generally not Apple’s policy to trumpet our plans for the future; we tend to talk about the things we have just accomplished. Unfortunately this policy has left our customers, shareholders, employees and the industry in the dark about Apple’s desires and plans to become greener.

The level of detail of the statement about waste and environmental issues is also striking – suggesting that if you’re going to make commitments in this area, you have to be pretty detailed. (As was Marks and Spencers when announcing its ‘Plan A’). General ‘motherhood and apple pie’ promises don’t cut it any longer.

On the Greenpeace side of things, for the moment they’re saying thank you, while also observing that there are some things which don’t go far enough – US customers benefit from a good disposal policy, for example, while Europeans do not.

The Greenpeace campaign won a ‘webby’ earlier this week for its inventiveness – so they’ve had a good week – and they deserved to. It’s worth looking at pages in the GreenMyApple site to see the way in which they used the full range of web 2.0 tools, and user created media, to generate involvement, and wit.