Apple founder and former chief executive Steve Jobs did not believe in corporate social responsibility or CSR. He believed that companies should focus on making great products and that a CSR program could hurt the bottom line of a particular organization. However, despite these views, Apple stated a CSR strategy that revolved around environmental sustainability, responsible sourcing, and social impact. The strategy has evolved over the years and now includes more specific initiatives that are all aimed at producing a win-win situation for both the company and all of its relevant stakeholders.
A Look Into the CSR Strategy of Apple: Corporate Social Responsibility as a Critical Element of Its Business Strategy
The first comprehensive CSR strategy of Apple was described in 2004 in its first Corporate Responsibility Report which outlined its commitment to environmental sustainability, responsible sourcing, and social impact. Nevertheless, after Jobs stepped down and Tim Cook replaced him as chief executive in 2011, the company expanded its strategy with the creation of a department dedicated to developing further and implementing its CSR strategy.
Apple specifically appointed chemical engineer and former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson in 2013 as its Vice President of Environmental Initiatives. She was promoted in 2015 and became the Vice President of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives. Her new role made her in charge of all the CSR strategy and CSR programs of Apple and her promotion marked a stronger commitment toward corporate social responsibility.
Noteworthy CSR Programs
Based on the role of Jackson, and in addition to its Corporate Responsibility Report and public pronouncements, the CSR programs of Apple are designed around environmental protection, adherence to legal and ethical standards, and promotion of social welfare. The following are some of the notable programs of the company:
• Apple Recycling Program: The company has a recycling program that assists customers in disposing of their old Apple products. Some older products can be traded for credits that can be used to purchase newer products. The program also includes the operations of collection centers and facilities for recovering and processing recyclable materials. The recovered materials are reintroduced to its supply chain and become production inputs for newer products. Apple has also redesigned its production processes and product design to improve the repairability and recyclability of its products.
• Other Environmental Initiatives: It has also launched numerous initiatives aimed at promoting sustainability by focusing on addressing climate change, sustainable use of resources, and smarter chemistry. These include maintaining carbon neutrality through the use of renewable electricity in its facilities, financial commitment to nature-based projects, a comprehensive waste strategy, and value chain emissions reduction.
• Ethics and Compliance: Apple has several compliance functions that are integrated into its operations. Its dedicated Business Conduct and Global Compliance team focuses on business conduct, political compliance, export and sanction compliance, health compliance, antitrust compliance, and anti-corruption compliance. It also holds an annual mandatory Business Compliance training to educate and reeducate its employees about its Business Conduct Policy.
• Supplier Responsibility: It also has various programs aimed at safeguarding the interest of its suppliers and their workers. The company requires its suppliers to observe adherence to labor rights and human rights. It does regular audits to ensure that its suppliers are compliant with its Apple Human Right Policy and Apple Supplier Code of Conduct. The company also runs the Apple Supplier Employee Development Fund to promote and protect the rights of employees and finance the Apple Education Hub which is responsible for implementing various skill-building and career enrichment programs.
• Apple and Education: The company has specific sales promotional activities and pricing strategy targeted toward educators and learners. It collaborates with different educational institutions to help in integrating its products and technologies with relevant curricula and courses. Apple also offers special discounts through its education pricing to these institutions and individual educators and learners.
• Product Red Involvement: Apple has also participated in the Product Red initiative that was introduced in 2006 to raise awareness and funds needed to eliminate HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases. The company has launched special editions of iPhones based on the Product Red brand. A portion of earnings from the sales of these devices goes to The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Other multinational companies like Nike and Starbucks are also participants.
Purpose of the CSR Strategy
A closer look at the purpose behind its CSR strategy and all of its CSR programs would reveal that Apple promotes causes that can improve further its value chain. This is attuned to the established principles of corporate social responsibility. Proponents of the socioeconomic model of corporate social responsibility believe in the core principle of doing well by doing. This means that companies with well-designed CSR strategies and CSR programs create a win-win scenario that benefits themselves and their stakeholders.
Nevertheless, for its part, the CSR strategy of Apple benefits several areas of its value chain. Its Apple Recycling Program adds another layer of security to its supply chain while also reducing the bargaining power of its suppliers. Some of its environmental initiatives like its carbon neutral operations, comprehensive waste strategy, and smarter chemistry policy help in optimizing business processes and reducing long-term costs.
The commitment to ethics and compliance help in empowering its internal workforce while managing threats from possible regulatory scrutiny. Take note that compliance issues can cost Apple hundreds of millions of dollars. The various programs and initiatives aimed at promoting the interest or welfare of its suppliers and their employees also help in securing further its supply chain by reducing the possibilities of disruptions that can arise from legal compliance issues, workforce disempowerment, or supplier incompetence.
Both the education pricing scheme and the Product Red involvement reinforce some elements of its marketing mix. The education pricing scheme can be considered both a pricing strategy and a promotion strategy aimed at bringing in more people inside its product ecosystem. The development of iPhone models under the Product Red brand entices a targeted segment of the general target market while also promoting a positive corporate image.
The CSR strategy of Apple fundamentally centers on its goal of leaving the world better than it was found. Cook stated this in an internal memo sent to employees that announced the promotion of Jackson and her broader role. It is also interesting to note that this is one of the guiding principles utilized in the various facets and elements of its business strategy like its specific promotion strategy and public relations strategy. The company believes that its social impacts extend beyond its products and acknowledges the importance and benefits of advancing the interest of its stakeholders.