Jacob Weisberg, the editor of Slate, has argued that the SAGA Companies (Starbucks, Apple, Google, and Amazon) hold a special place in the American consciousness (4 Captivating Companies and What They Share, Washington Post, Sep 14, 2008). So it is particularly interesting that Apple has updated what it discloses on its web site about its environmental footprint (see Apple and the Environment). Here is a breakdown of where their carbon output comes from:As Business Week notes (Apple Launches Major Green Effort, Sep 24), Apple has caught flak in the past for not being particularly forthcoming with data about their environmental impact. (Apple secretive?! Who would have guessed it?) However, their recent change of heart has as much to do with strategic positioning as really trying to be greener than a granny smith. Now Apple can claim to have a more complete accounting of its environmental impact than its competitors.
I see two interesting points here from an operational perspective. Both begin with the observation that “greening” a company has to impact its operations, whether that is the selection of its inputs, its willingness to recycle materials, or where it locates its factories. To know how one is doing, however, requires some amount of benchmarking. Apple-like revelations are a step forward in facilitating benchmarking within and across industries.
The second point is that “green” really is in the eye of the beholder and the firm that gets to establish a definition of green that fits what it does well. Wal-Mart made a splash this summer by announcing that it would create a “green” rating system of its suppliers (Wal-Mart to Assign New ‘Green’ Ratings, Wall Street Journal, Jul 16). This is — take your pick — either a noble attempt to drive green efficiency in the market or a preemptive end run around inevitable regulation. (There are similar issue in wood products about which of two competing standards is better. See Environmental Groups Spar Over Certifications of Wood and Paper Products, New York Times, Sep 11.) It will be interesting to see what the market will accept as a sufficient certification of greenness.