At Apple’s annual shareholder meeting Friday, a member of the conservative National Center for Public Policy Research pushed a shareholder proposal — which ultimately failed — to be more transparent about costs associated with sustainability efforts. This includes Apple’s plans to obtain 100% of its electricity needs from green sources.
The think tank representative also asked questions during the shareholder Q and A, including one challenging Apple CEO Tim Cook to commit to taking actions that are only profitable for the company and its shareholders.
That sparked an uncharacteristically sharp reaction from Cook, who observers said was visibly angry. Cook noted the company doesn’t consider its return on investment at all times, as when it pushes to adapt its products for use by the blind. "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons,” Cook then told the NCPPR representative, “you should get out of this stock.”
At a time when Millennial consumers are especially concerned about the ethics of the retailers they buy from, most companies are feeling more pressure to choose sustainability and humane worker conditions over pure profit. The disruptive actions by a representative of the National Center for Public Policy Research, though clearly taking Cook off guard, are not likely to make a dent into Apple's core ethical approach. In fact, it gave Cook an opportunity to vehemently voice the company’s stance without the filter of public relations sound bites and sustainability reports.
But the NCPPR declared victory, saying that thanks to the incident everyone now knows that, “the company is involved with organizations that don't appear to have the best interest of Apple's investors in mind.” What the conservative group doesn’t seem to grasp is that shareholders and consumers, whatever the level of appreciation they may have for Apple’s sustainability measures, are more concerned with product innovation — something about which Cook had little to say on Friday.