So What Were We Doing at Apple and Why Did Tim Cook Get So Mad?

Silver_Apple_Logo_WhiteI hadn’t yet been able to find the time to write a properly comprehensive post on what we were doing at the Apple Computer shareholder meeting last Friday, but with something like a thousand news media articles out there getting the story either wrong or incomplete, I don’t want to leave our story untold.

The Guardian newspaper sent us three questions on Monday for an article, it said, to run Tuesday. I answered them by email and in so doing touched on at least some parts of this story that are largely uncovered.

As Tuesday has come and gone, I figure I’ve given the Guardian fair time to use the words first, if it wanted to, so I’m going to post its three questions, and my answers. After that, I’ve added a bit more detail that goes beyond what the Guardian asked, but which should give anyone following this story — and that includes you, Apple fans — some food for thought.

The three questions:

1) Will [National Center Free Enterprise Project Director Justin] Danhof [who represented the National Center for Public Policy Research at the shareholder meeting] be withdrawing any investments from Apple? Will any other NCPPR figures?

2) Do you plan to continue campaigning on this issue against Tim Cook, and if so what measures will you consider next?

3) You mention that over 95% of all climate models have over-forecast the extent of global warming – any chance you can give me a source for that?

And the question with my answers:

1) Will Danhof be withdrawing any investments from Apple? Will any other NCPPR figures?

Neither the National Center for Public Policy Research nor its top executives have any plans to sell our shares in Apple. We’ve been an Apple-only office since 1985 and do not intend to abandon the company in any respect despite CEO Tim Cook’s invitation to do so. Cook does not have the authority to determine who is allowed to be a shareholder.

2) Do you plan to continue campaigning on this issue against Tim Cook, and if so what measures will you consider next?

We are not campaigning against Tim Cook; we are campaigning for transparency and competitive markets and we will continue.

Tim Cook’s agitated response at the shareholder meeting was somewhat surprising. Apple cares greatly about return on investment, and Tim Cook knows it. In fact, while we asked that Apple undertake no projects specifically to fight global warming that are unrelated to business goals – a very reasonable pledge we were able to get from General Electric – we actually have no evidence Apple is doing any such thing. It is a very profit-focused company. But as our shareholder proposal made clear, we sought transparency on this and related issues, which is a reasonable request for a shareholder to make.

We wonder if Mr. Cook’s outrage was feigned. What constitutes a “green” company is subjective, but it is hard to imagine that Apple qualifies. Minimalist packaging is a big priority within the sustainability movement. Apple’s packaging is beautiful, but not minimalist.

In 2012, Apple withdrew from the industry-funded Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) sustainability registry when many believed the then-new line of MacBooks would not meet EPEAT’s standards. Days later, Apple rejoined EPEAT, and somehow earned EPEAT’s top “gold” certification for its new laptop. How was Apple able to earn this approval? Would a smaller company have been treated the same? Minus the transparency we sought with our shareholder proposal, who knows?

And then there’s cap-and-trade. Apple was all for reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions through a cap-and-trade law. But Apple does a very substantial amount of its manufacturing in China, which would not have been subject to the law. Would the same be true for all current and future Apple competitors?

Apple is extremely good at looking green. This is what the famous environmental groups call “greenwashing.” Why is Al Gore on its board? Because of his technology and innovation expertise or because he helps make Apple look green? Why did Apple hire the Obama Administration’s scandal-plagued Environmental Protection Agency chief? Was it because executives who circumvent transparency laws are highly prized, or because hiring her helped make Apple look green?

Observers should remind themselves that Apple manufactures devices that use a lot of energy and Apple works hard to assure that customers will want to replace them every few years, if not sooner. Apple’s business plan includes making its products disposable. Is this a sustainability strategy, or a return-on-investment strategy?

Don’t get us wrong. We love Apple products. Our office has used them exclusively since 1985, far longer than Tim Cook has been employed there. We even stuck with Apple through the 90s, wondering for a time if we would be the last Apple users anywhere. But Apple is a profit-making company, not an environmental organization, and Tim Cook’s statement to us that we can get out of his company’s stock if we don’t agree with his non-profit priorities ignores that Apple is all about profits.

Tim Cook didn’t get paid some $40 million in 2013 because he’s an environmentalist, but he is more valuable to Apple when he plays one on TV. As such, Tim Cook’s statement may simply have been public relations. He looked nice and green, standing there, indignant that someone might think one of the world’s most successful companies should focus on… business success.

But does Apple walk this talk? And since Apple is considered to be “cool,” does the media even expect it to?

We asked for nothing that would hurt the environment. In fact, once they got over the fact that it is so-called “global warming deniers” (though we reject that the nasty Holocaust-referencing slur) like the National Center for Public Policy Research that was proposing it, even environmental groups presumably would like our call for transparency regarding trade associations that presumably are pro-green, but which are quite secretive, and which run the risk of favoring big companies over small ones, without regard to the environment.

CMIP5-90-models-global-Tsfc-vs-obs-thru-2013_Roy_Spencer3) You mention that over 95% of all climate models have over-forecast the extent of global warming – any chance you can give me a source for that?

Of course we can give you a source for my statement about the climate models. I am referring to an analysis by climatologist Dr. Roy Spencer. He put a description of his analysis on his website at:

In case you are not familiar with Dr. Spencer, he is regarded as a “skeptic,” but he does believe some portion of global warming is due to human influences (he just isn’t prepared to say how much). When various persons report that 97% of all climate scientists believe in global warming/climate change (the wording used varies), Dr. Spencer’s work is included among, not outside of, the 97% they refer to. His bio and email address is included on the website and he is known to be a person who is open to answering questions about his findings.

That’s it for the Guardian’s questions and answers. I still recommend British writer Tim Worstall’s article on all this, as I believe he got closer to what is going on here than almost everybody else (I haven’t read every article on this story and don’t want to be unfair to anyone).

I’ll also end this post with a closing thought. Last year, we flew a member of our board of directors to the Apple shareholder meeting to ask Tim Cook a question about trade association “sustainability” activities that officially are about being green but which in practice threaten competitiveness and give big businesses an unfair edge over smaller companies. Tim Cook only took five questions (one about bathrooms!) and ignored ours. So we issued a press release. Did anyone care? Mostly, not.

So for the 2014 shareholder meeting, we submitted a shareholder proposal calling for reasonable transparency for these trade association activities, and we asked Tim Cook a question (which wasn’t easy; after calling on our representative Cook tried to pick someone else immediately after recognizing him, but our guy got his question out fast) to find out where Apple really stands. There are many calm and professional ways Cook could have answered our question, but he instead choose to lose his temper, pretend we objected to things like the development of accessibility tools for the blind (we don’t object and never mentioned the subject), and duck much of what we asked.

Why is that? In our view, it isn’t because Apple is too green. It is because it is brilliant at greenwashing. Tim Cook got a question that — had he answered it — could have illustrated the difference between Apple’s green reputation and Real World Apple.

Tim Cook didn’t like that question, so he scolded us and played the green card, and got out of giving a straight answer.

And based on the amount of email we’ve gotten since Friday with the words “F–k you” in them, a lot of you fell for it.

We suggest that you ask yourselves: Why did Apple’s management oppose our shareholder resolution [resolution #9 at the link], which called for transparency in its relationships with trade associations and sustainability registries such as EPEAT?

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.