Apple still lags in defining a social purpose

Recently, it was announced that Apple’s stock market value had neared $625 billion, making it the most valuable company ever. The headlines made me re-consider an article I wrote for Forbes last August called Where is Apple’s Social Purpose?

Declaring that Apple didn’t have a social purpose wasn’t very popular and the post generated some harsh comments. “Write an irritating piece you know nothing about and stick an ‘Apple’ in it for clicks,” commented one Forbes reader. “Try Google or ‘Samsung’ or ‘Ford’ and see what happens.”

In light of the news this week, I wondered if my point of view was still valid. Yesterday, I decided to take this reader’s advice and explore what social purpose looks like at Google, Samsung and Ford. What I found illustrates that, while Apple’s financial success is extraordinary, its social purpose continues to be underwhelming.

Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.” This social mission statement is backed up by the company’s philanthropic arm,, that develops technologies to help address global challenges and supports innovative partners through grants, investments and in-kind resources.

“A digital leader…a responsible global citizen…a multi-faceted family of companies… an ethical business…Samsung is all of these and more.”  This company has made responsibility a very high strategic priority. According to Samsung, “A company’s success is measured not only by its business achievements, but also by how well it serves its community, protects our planet’s resources, and makes a difference in people’s lives.”

“A business that makes nothing but money is a poor business,” said Henry Ford. Today, Ford is focused on “creating a strong business that builds great products that contribute to a better world.”

Here’s what Apple says about itself: Apple designs Macs, the best personal computers in the world, along with OS X, iLife, iWork and professional software. Apple leads the digital music revolution with its iPods and iTunes online store. Apple has reinvented the mobile phone with its revolutionary iPhone and App Store, and is defining the future of mobile media and computing devices with iPad.

According to Bob Mansfield, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering, “Apple makes the most environmentally responsible products in our industry.” Designing products that use less material, ship with smaller packaging, and are free of toxic substances is the right thing to do.  I support the shared value of a better approach to product design that minimizes environmental impact while contributing significantly to the company’s bottom line.  However, reducing its environmental footprint is table stakes for every large corporation.

In addition to environmental responsibility, I discovered an interesting initiative called the Apple Distinguished Educators (ADE) program that recognizes K-12 and higher education pioneers who are using a variety of Apple[/entity] products to transform teaching and learning. This is a great idea. I wonder why they don’t tell us about this and instead keep sending emails like the one I got yesterday with the subject line “Go back to school with the perfect gear and free shipping.”[/entity][/entity]

I love Apple products but I want more. The world’s most valuable company should be aiming at nothing less than revolutionizing, reinventing and redefining the social purpose of business.

In addition to resonating more with people of all ages for whom social change has become a high priority, being a social purpose leader is a competitive imperative: Samsung, Microsoft, and Research in Motion are much more evolved in this area.  Although it’s hard to believe that Apple’s business will stumble anytime soon, no company stays on top forever.

I applaud Apple’s financial performance but continue to lament the company’s lack of purpose.

This article was originally posted on Forbes

image credit: Crunchbase
Paul Klein founded Impakt in 2001 to help corporations become social purpose leaders and is considered a pioneer in the areas of corporate social responsibility.  Paul is regularly featured in the media as a corporate social responsibility source, was included in the Globe and Mail’s 2011 Leading Thinkers Series, and was recognized as one of America’s Top 100 Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business Behaviour.  You can follow Paul on twitter at paulatimpakt