Apple’s latest video (see below) showcasing its efforts to reduce its environmental impacts left me both impressed but also nervous on their behalf. I was drawn in by the star-power and the overall professionalism that Apple demonstrated as it does with most of what it produces—its products, its streaming content and certainly this video. But I was also concerned about the bold claims it makes outlining how the company is on track to achieve its climate goals, its packaging goals and its other environmental objectives.
As we all know, compiling climate and environmental related data across a corporation’s operations is a daunting task, rife with opportunities for incorrect data, data gaps and systematic errors that can lead to significant misstatements. Not only that, to accurately account for end-to-end impacts across a value chain as widespread as Apple’s requires heavy reliance on data that comes from suppliers and other value-chain partners—even more opportunity for errors and incorrect data.
The risk with then presenting such information, neatly rolled up in a charming and funny video (Octavia Spencer as Mother Nature?! Awesome.) like Apple’s is that if errors are found, a supplier has mis-represented something, or a new material turns out to be not as “clean” as was originally thought, then the impact is that much more public. And all of these are well-known risks in the climate-accounting world. However, even more impactful than the embarrassment that this might bring to Apple is the reputational impact this has to the hundreds of very diligent efforts that are underway by many companies to understand their impacts, strategize on how to reduce them, and tell the story of their progress.
We need to bring the world, and particularly the skeptics, along with us on these journeys, so let’s not lead with our chins and invite withering criticism should such bold claims turn out to be not-ready-for-primetime. At this point in time, when we are seeing firsthand the impact of human-induced climate change in very clear and disturbing ways, we must not risk alienating those people and companies that already view climate change–reducing efforts with cynicism. So, while Apple’s efforts are to be commended and we fully support efforts by companies to tell their story and highlight their successes, we would encourage companies to approach such story telling with a healthy dose of caution, a candor about the challenges, and an honest assessment of the gaps, assumptions and estimates that need to be done to achieve their very desirable goals.