A Tonne of Gold

A Tonne of Gold [Detail]

Much has been made of Apple’s ability to innovate, compete – and even matter – in an era characterised, inevitably, by a CEO other than Steve Jobs at the helm.

Every other week it seems we hear another story about how the company has lost its way, is drifting or – worse – is facing impending collapse due to a lack of innovation.

As an Apple shareholder I have a number of concerns about the product decisions the company is making (more on that, in due course), but I have no doubt about the company’s ability to innovate, compete and matter.

Of course, Apple – under Tim Cook’s guidance – has different priorities. Anyone who’s worked in a company of any reasonable size will understand that when the leadership changes, the priorities change and the direction of travel alters.

Perhaps the problem with Apple – one of the world’s largest companies – lies in the fact that the focus of the world is on the bottom line (of profit), when it should be on the bottom line (full stop).

If there’s one thing Tim Cook’s era – so far – has underlined, it’s that Apple has a responsibility beyond the bottom line in pure cash terms; rather the company has a responsibility, as one of the world’s largest companies, to set an example for others.

Cook is, unquestionably, leading by example here, with Apple’s focus on environmental and other, non-product, concerns.

Sustainability is hardly eye-catching when your focus is solely on profit and loss, and yet – if you put your mind to it – sustainability might just be all about profit and loss.

Apple’s latest environmental report provides detailed information about the company’s efforts to put the environment front and centre and, thanks to the company’s scale, this effort is more than paying off.

As Tech Insider put it:

Apple found $40 million in gold from used phones and computers last year.

When the average smartphone uses fewer than 30 milligrams of gold, mostly in circuit boards and other internal components, recouping tonnes of gold is no small order. This gold could end up in landfill, carelessly discarded, but when a company the size of Apple addresses the issue – and innovates around it – it becomes a sizeable source of revenue.

Of course there are other notable by-products of this approach, namely a company acting as a beacon signalling the importance of environmental responsibility to others.

This focus also helps to tell an important story, that – when a product has reached the end of its useful life – that useful life is, in fact, only beginning. That a company of Apple’s scale is focusing on telling this story is admirable.

Yes, there might be issues with some of the product decisions the company is making, but that doesn’t mean the company isn’t innovating elsewhere and telling a captivating story in the process.

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