Thursday, October 4, 2012

Apple vs Exxon

I have been reading a book authored by Steve Coll entitled Private Empire, ExxonMobil and American Power. It details a lot of that corporations' commercial, political, environmental and humanitarian history over the past thirty years.

The book raised several questions in my mind: Can any entity of that size, be and stay “clean?” Can dealing with governments, politicians, suppliers, sub-contractors and human populations be any different for Apple than it is for Exxon Mobil? How can the macro challenges of making a profit for those two companies really be different from each other?

America loves its biggest corporation - Apple*, and hates its second biggest – Exxon Mobil*. Around the world we have tigers in our tanks and iPhones in our pockets. Is it simply the “cool” factor that differentiates the two? Is one really “cleaner” than the other?

I thought I would do a simple comparison: What is the carbon footprint of an iPhone vs the carbon footprint of one gallon of gasoline?

Here is a link to Apple's site about their emissions: http://www.apple.com/environment/ Here they tout the decrease in their carbon footprint as a percentage of total revenue. (Might this decrease be more driven by their revenue increases than the carbon emission decreases?)

Here is a link to Exxon Mobil's Corporate Citizen Report: http://www.exxonmobil.com/Corporate/Files/news_pub_ccr2011.pdf  Here they tout the decreases in their emissions based on their comparison year 2000 baselines.

Both web links read like corporate speak to me so I went looking for other data. I came across the Carbon Disclosure Project https://www.cdproject.net/en-US/Pages/HomePage.aspx. (Here is a Wkipedia link about the project http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_Disclosure_Project.) I signed up and went diving for data.

Yearly data is listed there for Exxon Mobil but Apple stopped participating in the project in 2010. Now, I am sure Apple has a litany of good corporate bureaucratic reasons not to participate but it makes me wonder, what they are hiding?

I did find a Pacific Gas and Electric statement http://www.pge.com/about/environment/calculator/assumptions.shtml based on an USEPA publication that “Burning 1 gallon of gasoline produces 19.4 lbs CO2.”

Apple http://images.apple.com/environment/reports/docs/iPhone5_product_environmental_report_sept2012.pdf  lists iPhone 5 as have "Total greenhouse gas emissions: 75 kg (165.347 lbs) CO2e" over its life cycle. I did not see a definition of  "life cycle."

How do we compare apples to gas cans?

George W Parker


Disclaimer time. I do not own stock in either company. (I wish I did.) I do not receive any remuneration in any form from either company. (Again, I wish I did.) I do buy Exxon Mobil gasoline. I do own an old iPhone my daughter uses as an iTouch. I need to also state that I am inherently skeptical of any information offered by any company for public review.

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