Yesterday, I was invited to join the live BBC World Service show, Business Matters to discuss Apple’s green manifesto and its rivalry with Samsung. I was interviewed by the BBC’s talented Manuela Saragosa. Here’s a transcript of the highlights. Listen to the full interview here (green discussion starts at 26:00).
Saragosa: It was Earth Day on Tuesday… there’s been no dimming of the lights here at the BBC…but technology giant, Apple has been laying out its green manifesto to mark Earth Day. The company’s CEO Tim Cook put out a video, announcing a new scheme that allows any product made by Apple to be returned to the company for recycling.
Our guest, Alison van Diggelen is in California’s Silicon Valley. Alison, green business issues are your thing, what do you make of Apple’s manifesto? Is there substance to it do you think?
van Diggelen: I think there is substance to it. The reason they put out this video is: Greenpeace has been snapping at Apple’s heels for quite some time. I did a story a couple of years ago (for NPR’s KQED Radio) when they were looking at data centers. Greenpeace came up with their own quasi Apple ad (cunningly called iCoal), showing that every time you download something or send a photo on your iPhone, you’re putting more smog into the atmosphere. It was very clever and got Apple’s attention, and now they’re really moving ahead (According to a recent EPA report – Apple is now in the top 10 clean energy users nationally and uses 92% clean energy). One of their major data centers (in North Carolina) where they do Apple iCloud, has 100% green power: clean energy, using solar and fuel cells.
In the video, they’re doing a little chest thumping, saying “Look at us – here’s what we’re doing!” And of course, launching it on the week of Earth Day was a very clever move, a strategic move…
I do think Apple deserves to be lauded. It could do more, but I think shining a light on what it’s doing so far is good.
Saragosa: But it’s come a hugely long way. I know that in 2006, Greenpeace published its first guide to green electronics and at that point it rated Apple among the worst companies (it ranked 11 out of 14 companies). I suppose things have changed quite a lot since then.
van Diggelen: Yes. I think Greenpeace deserves credit for doing what it can to put the pressure on. This report it released went through all the major tech companies: Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter (Amazon), saying: “Here’s what they’re doing folks!” Companies that you think of as pretty green and green advocates like Google, they’re not doing enough. They could do more.
The interesting thing with Tim Cook that your listeners will definitely be interested in is that at a recent shareholders’ meeting, someone stood up and said: “We don’t like what you’re doing with all those clean energy data centers. Couldn’t you be using your funds to make better products…do other things?”
Saragosa: But is that a widely held view?
van Diggelen: This is the interesting thing: Tim Cook struck back at them. He said: “We believe that we must make the world a better place.” He stood up and said this to the shareholders…”If you don’t agree with it, sell your shares! Which was quite gutsy of him I thought. Since then Richard Branson (CEO Virgin Atlantic etc) has said the same (He recently wrote, “Businesses should never be entirely focused on the bottom line…I would urge climate deniers to get out of our way!“) So I think it’s great to see high profile CEO’s like Tim Cook and Richard Branson are doing that, and saying: Hey! We need to think about the environment, we need to think about our impact on the environment. I’m cheered by that.
Listen to more of our discussion re Apple vs Samsung battle, copycats, tech recycling, and safe disposal of electronic goods.
We also explored attitudes to the environment and clean energy in Asia with David Kuo of the Motley Fool in Singapore; and discussed the devastating levels of pollution in China’s major cities.
van Diggelen: I recently spoke with Andrew Chung, who’s a Chinese American venture capitalist in Silicon Valley. He’s doing a lot of work in China and he was telling me about one of the (green) companies he’s investing in. The impetus in China is huge: they’re having to do it because the pollution is so intense, people are dying from the pollution.
One of these companies that’s completely addressing that is LanzaTech. They’re capturing the carbon monoxide pollution from steelmakers outside Shanghai and using it to create valuable fuel and chemicals, rather than ‘just’ capturing it. It’s a really interesting solution: a win win. A win for the environment, but it’s also a money maker and great for the steelmakers. So that’s the kind of play that’s going on in China.
Environmental policy was front and center Tuesday evening at the Churchill Club in Silicon Valley as EPA Administrator, Lisa Jackson took the stage with former Michigan Governor, Jennifer Granholm. Fracking and the proposed Keystone pipeline were hot topics during the lively discussion.
In December, Jackson announced that she will leave her post after four tumultuous years in DC and didn’t rule out running for elected office. Speculation is rife about her running for Governor of New Jersey.
“It can and should be done safely..I’m enough of a scientist to say: the verdict is not in yet. We need more data.”
On the Keystone Pipeline
“I will be gone (from the EPA) before a decision is made. A revised environmental impact study will be done, then public feedback, then President Obama will decide ‘if it’s in the national interest’. This will take into account pollution, groundwater, and the economic perspective. It’s too soon in the process to say (if it will get the green light).
A Price on Carbon?
“The current climate doesn’t lead me to believe there will be a national law soon. But that doesn’t preclude state action (such as California’s), and the private sector, where important progress can be made.”
Jennifer Granholm, who was a strong advocate for cleantech during her eight year tenure as Governor of Michigan added, “The Federal Government could offer a pot of money to incentives states to take action and stimulate progress from the bottom up.” She likened her idea to the “Race to the Top” program for education.
On Green Innovation and the Role of the EPA
“The EPA can level the playing field by setting emissions standards and goals which stimulate the private sector to compete and beat them. It often costs less than EPA estimates, due to private sector innovation. But the private sector needs uniform and not patchwork standards…”
“The EPA works for all the American people, not special interests…it’s not a zero sum game. For it to succeed no one needs to lose. There are win/win strategies. Regulations need to be enforced. The work we do is vital and sacred.”
On Science and Climate Change
“I am a scientist and at the EPA we have more scientists than any other Federal agency except NASA…We face a roll-back in the Clean Air Act. Be aware that consensus is enough – unanimity is not required or you’ll miss the window for action.”
There was a vocal climate change skeptic in the audience whom Jackson addressed directly saying he wasn’t representative of the majority of Americans.
On her Greatest Achievements at the EPA
“The endangerment finding made pollution actionable…and we raised fuel efficiency standards.”
As Dana Hull explains in the Mercury News, during Jackson’s tenure, the EPA finalized its endangerment finding which authorizes it to take reasonable efforts to reduce greenhouse gases.
The event was hosted at the Microsoft Campus in Mountain View by Rob Bernard, the company’s green czar.
“We are a community of change agents,” said Sarandon. “Bringing about the world we want for our children.”
In a video tribute at the Bently Reserve, Will.i.am enthused about healthy design being a human right, and thanked Bill McDonough for inspiring him. “It’s my mission…to create products that after we use them have a new beginning,” said the popular singer songwriter, and quipped, pointing first at himself then at Bill McDonough: “Will.i.am…Bill.i.am.”
The newly crowned “Bill.i.am” came on stage to great applause and was obviously amused by his tributes. He announced his upcoming book, “The Upcycle” (a tome on upcycling to be released in 2013) and what he called “his baby,” a Bill Clinton inspired solution to homelessness in Haiti and beyond.
“What if we could design a house that could be built by children and their parents in a day without tools?” said McDonough, who is well known for his visionary zeal. He showed the audience a model of a simple one room home, made of ‘upcycled’ plastic no doubt. He dreams that these homes could be shipped in flatpacks to earthquake and storm damaged areas, wherever there is a need around the world.
“What if we could do (for building) what Muhammad Yunus did for banking?” said McDonough, alluding to the microfinance guru who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work alleviating poverty in Bangladesh.
Perhaps McDonough has a similar award in mind? He’s won many awards in the green design field (including three Presidential Awards for Sustainable Development and Design), and has taken some criticism, but one thing is for certain, he’s never been short on grand vision. Witness the 6-hour long Monticello Dialogues.
He may yet succeed in taking Cradle to Cradle mainstream and making the world a healthier and greener place. With allies like Meryl Streep, Susan Sarandon and Will.i.am who can doubt him?
Click here to see highlights of Fresh Dialogues exclusive interview with Meryl Streep at the event.
The video was recorded at the Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute Gala, the Bently Reserve, San Francisco on Wednesday November 14, 2012.
We were delighted when Meryl Streep agreed to a Fresh Dialogues interview last month in San Francisco. We had a lively conversation about why she’s become an activist for the environment.
Meryl was charming and generous, but I left the interview feeling that I’d just talked with Margaret Thatcher’s younger sister. Perhaps my British accent sparked the Queen of accents channeling her inner Iron Lady?
Why should we care for the environment?
We’re all part of the ecosystem. We’re all connected. You can’t go around in a bubble…
Unlike so many environmental messages which are negative: “don’t this…don’t that!” Bill approaches things in a positive, restorative, beneficial way…with a focus on abundance. His mantra is a beautiful thing: “Designing a safe, healthy and delightful world for the love of all children, for all species, for all time.”
He’s a fervent optimist. His cup is never half empty or even half full. It’s always full of water and air. We were both profoundly affected by similar things: Silent Spring (the book by Rachel Carson) and concern for the impact of toxins on children. He’s the consummate multi-tasker. He leaves me breathless.
On the roots of her environmental consciousness
It all goes back to being a mother. That’s the most invested relationship. You pay attention, perhaps for the first time. What is going in your child’s mouth? What’s her environment like? What will the future be?
In 1989 Streep cofounded “Mothers and Others” to raise awareness of toxic pesticides used in food production.
How did Julia Child influence her? Click here for more interview highlights.
Check out the video of Meryl Streep’s hilarious tribute to Bill McDonough.
Climate One‘sGreg Dalton brought together a pair of climate experts yesterday at the Commonwealth Club to discuss the “Great Disruption” – Is it the end of the world as we know it? What will happen to the global economy when the world stops denying the realities of climate change?
Australian environmental business expert Paul Gilding, and Senior Fellow at the Post Carbon Institute, Richard Heinberg shared their wisdom in a lively dialogue with Dalton. Gilding’s latest book is The Great Disruption and describes how to fight-and win-what he calls The One Degree War to prevent catastrophic warming of the earth. It has even received a favorable review by Tom Friedman in his New York Times column. Heinberg’s tenth book is The End of Growth and describes exactly why this decade will be worse than the Great Depression; he predicts future global growth will be a zero sum game thanks to resource, climate and financial limits. Despite the rather apocalyptic theme of both authors, the near capacity audience was treated to some upbeat comments from Gilding coupled with some more cautionary responses from Heinberg. Here are some of the highlights:
“People’s ability to change is quite impressive – witness World War 2- we can end the denial and decide on a different future…the debate is how to act not whether to act.” Paul Gilding.
“During WW2, the enemy was visible. The U.S. has a larger capacity for denial. We will have to hit a wall before seeing change…it”s like a slow motion crash.” Richard Heinberg.
On Carbon Tax
“In Australia, a carbon tax is going through Parliament. The price is low…but every balance sheet will soon show the cost of carbon. (In OZ) The debate is over.” Paul Gilding.
On the Trigger
“The price of energy, food and transport will be the trigger point. Government must put in place the framework for change.” Paul Gilding.
On Clean Tech
“Exciting things are happening in renewables. Solar will be cheaper than coal within a decade. Then the game changes dramatically.” Paul Gilding
What a stimulating way to spend your lunch hour. Thanks to Greg Dalton for orchestrating a memorable – if sobering – event.