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Apr 07, 2011 Cynthia Figge

Can Apple's Employees Help Drive Better CSR?

By Cynthia Figge

Fast Company recently named Apple #1 in its ranking of the world’s most innovative companies. But when it comes to corporate social responsibility, Apple falls short of its innovative reputation.  (Full disclosure: I own an iPhone and also have iPad 2 envy.) Yet despite Apple’s lack of a corporate level sustainability report (they do offer environmental information on selected products), transparency of social actions, despite their non-reported charitable contributions – nothing available on their website or reported to The Chronicle of Philanthropy-- and despite their below average corporate social responsibility (CSR) rating, millions of us keep buying their products.

When one thinks about product companies that consistently delight their customers, certainly Apple comes to mind. Assuming many Apple customers care about sustainability, is it realistic to think that they (we) could influence the company by demanding greater corporate responsibility beyond the economic benefits to Apple and other companies in their ecosystem? Of course they have an obligation to be continually financially successfully, but do they also have an obligation to improve their CSR performance, and be more open about their progress?  How might customers exert influence?  This is an open question that I will leave to the marketplace.

However, there is another potential source of powerful influence – Apple’s thousands of employees. It is hard to know as an outside observer how employees value sustainability at Apple and whether they could or would influence policy.

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to have more integration of employees and CSR policy. At a Net Impact Seattle event on February 17th, I heard Dan Bross, VP of Citizenship at Apple’s competitor in Redmond, discuss Microsoft’s corporate social responsibility work. Yes, it’s an uphill battle, but they are making progress. Dan said that Microsoft’s annual employee survey covers a range of issues, including the question: “Are you aware of and do you agree with Microsoft’s work in CSR?” A staggering 93% of employees are aware of and agree with Microsoft’s CSR work, the highest rating of any question in the survey.

Here are Apple and Microsoft ratings on CSRHUB:


Screen shot 2011-04-06 at 11.09.02 PM

If Microsoft employees have anything to say about it, and I believe they do, it is likely that Microsoft’s sustainability performance will continue to improve. Dan Bross defines CSR as a set of corporate activities that add business value while addressing social issues. This bodes well for us all.  Perhaps Apple’s internal stakeholders can help exert similar influence to improve company sustainability performance. When employees get involved in driving CSR, they provide leverage not only internally, but impact customers through a virtuous circle. 



Cynthia Figge, Cofounder and COO of CSRHUB is a forerunner and thought leader in the corporate sustainability movement. In 1996 she co-founded EKOS International, one of the first consultancies integrating sustainability and corporate strategy. Cynthia has worked with major organizations including BNSF, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Dow Jones, and REI to help craft sustainability strategy integrated with business. She was an Officer of LIN Broadcasting/McCaw Cellular leading new services development, and started a new “Greenfield” mill with Weyerhaeuser. She serves as Advisor to media and technology companies, and served as President of the Board of Sustainable Seattle. Cynthia has an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is based in the Seattle area.
Photo: Creative Commons, Courtesy of Brandon Lynch


Published by Cynthia Figge April 7, 2011