Cook delivered the keynote speech at the sustainability nonprofit Ceres’ 30th Anniversary Gala in New York City on Monday night, where Apple received an award for its sustainability initiatives. Cook used the opportunity to expound the company’s outlook on climate change.
“It is our most successful, innovative and agile companies that have a responsibility to lead on climate and sustainability because they have the greatest capacity to act in a transformative way,” Cook said in the speech. “If you are an executive who has not developed an innovation strategy to address your impact on the climate, then you are failing in your duties as a leader.”
Cook went on to hail the company’s vice president of Environment, Policy and Social Initiatives Lisa Jackson, who led the Environmental Protection Agency under President Barack Obama and joined Apple in 2013. Cook said that the company runs its entire global operation on renewable energy, and now seeks to bring all of their suppliers onto the clean energy grid.
“…I have found that something slightly magical happens when you set goals that feel a bit crazy,” Cook said. “The effort will take you to places you didn’t anticipate, but the results are almost always better than what you thought was possible at the outset.”
He concluded his speech with a call to action for all those with power to take on climate change head on.
Thank you, Mindy, for that very kind introduction, for your leadership and for this wonderful award.
I’m grateful to all of our hosts, as well as to everyone who worked so hard to prepare this beautiful room. It’s a great privilege to share this stage with some of the truly transformative leaders of our time, and I join everyone here in celebrating Christiana Figueres’ inspiring lifelong efforts.
Looking around tonight, I’m struck by how fortunate we are to live and work and lead at this moment.
Generations have come and gone. They have connected the world by road, by train, by plane and by information. They have mapped the species of the earth, discovered how the smallest units of matter govern the air we breathe and the water we drink. They have uncovered sweeping histories of mankind’s mark on this planet: entire civilizations long forgotten, poetry in languages not spoken in millennia, a solitary human hand painted on a cave wall.
And now it’s our turn to make it all worth something. To bring together the economy we have built, the science we have uncovered, and the humanity we have received — and make the whole more meaningful than the sum of its parts. To leave something worthy of passing on.
This is not an idle responsibility. We can see that in mounting storms and droughts…in vanishing species and biodiversity…in billions of people at risk of scarcity and upheaval…and in an economic system that is being called into question by activists and demagogues alike. The stakes are high, and failure is not an option.
For 30 years, Ceres has been showing all of us the way forward. And I’m grateful to accept this award on Apple’s behalf and in the spirit of our unfinished work.
Apple’s Theory of Change
I’m here tonight because I believe in my heart that if we are going to meet this moment, it’s our human ingenuity that is going to help us do it.
We are not going to solve the challenges we face by shrinking our thinking or by pulling up the drawbridge.
As tempting as it may be in moments of adversity, we can’t afford to turn away from the horizon and focus instead on defending what we’ve already got.
It is our most successful, innovative and agile companies that have a responsibility to lead on climate and sustainability because they have the greatest capacity to act in a transformative way.
And the converse is just as true. If you are an executive who has not developed an innovation strategy to address your impact on the climate, then you are failing in your duties as a leader.
At Apple, our work on these issues is not secondary to what we do. It is not a side project or a hobby. It is an essential illustration of who we are and how we work.
Before I say anything else on that — and though she couldn’t be here with us tonight — I want to recognize a leader who has done more than anyone to focus that attention, Lisa Jackson.
Since she joined Apple in 2013, Lisa has revolutionized our approach to the environment — and our policy and social initiatives more broadly.
Our accomplishments since, and the work that is underway right now, would not have been possible without the efforts and vision of Lisa, her team and the many others at Apple who have made the environment their life’s work.
Together, Lisa and I accept nothing less than the kind of focus, creativity, quality and scale from our environmental initiatives than we do from anything else we undertake. If we can change the world with the devices we make, then we ought to be able to change the course of climate destruction worldwide. At the very least, we owe it to ourselves to try.
And what we have found through these efforts is that we can add great value to our business in the process.
Apple is a better, stronger, more resilient, more competitive company because of our environmental work.
The same drive that gave Apple a head start in spotting entire new industries in their earliest stages has helped us see the climate crisis not as a business risk but as a problem that contains the seeds of its own solution.
When we became one of the first companies to run 100% of our global operation on renewable energy, we didn’t do it just for fun. We did it because we knew it would create a virtuous cycle of demand for clean energy that brings costs down for everyone.
When we announced our goal to bring 100% of our suppliers onto the clean energy grid, we didn’t do it to show off. We did it because we knew that it would provide a necessary business impulse for some of our largest partners to develop a valuable competency that sets them apart in a changing world. And because it is the right thing to do.
This global effort, which just a few years ago existed only on paper, next year will bring online 6 gigawatts of new renewable power.
And tonight I want to say, to the rest of our suppliers in the United States and around the world: there has never been a better time to join us, because as Dr. King said, “the time is always right to do right.”
There is little to lose and an awful lot to be gained. We’ve seen similar cycles of compounding benefit in directing our innovative focus to renewable materials.
To us, this has never been about setting 5 yard goals that we know we can achieve really easily and without much work, and then taking a big victory lap after we do it.
Instead, in 2017 we thought hard about what we’d want to do if we could, putting all limitations, real or imagined, aside.
That’s how we landed on our commitment to move toward a closed-loop supply chain and to one day stop extracting materials from the earth altogether.
Now, this was pretty far out there at the time, and it still is today. We weren’t shy about saying that this wasn’t going to be something we could do overnight.
But I have found that something slightly magical happens when you set goals that feel a bit crazy. The effort will take you to places you didn’t anticipate, but the results are almost always better than what you thought was possible at the outset.
This one has led us to the discovery of the highest-quality 100% recycled aluminum alloy ever, which now makes up the enclosures of our flagship devices.
It’s led us to build more and more essential components from 100% recycled rare earth metals.
And it’s led us to disassemble, recycle and refurbish millions of iPhones per year, retaining those critical materials and redirecting them back into the supply chain.
Today, our climate focus touches every aspect of our work.
From the Amazon, to Colombia’s great expanses of mangroves, to the backwoods of Maine and North Carolina, we’ve preserved, restored and sometimes bought outright the best carbon recapture technology we’ve got: our forests…
Since 2013, we’ve helped our suppliers conserve more than 25 billion gallons of water…
And we’ve issued more than $2.5 billion in green bonds for environmental projects.
Why do we do all this?
Because solving problems — creatively and elegantly — is at the very heart of what makes Apple, Apple.
It’s what gets every one of our employees out of bed in the morning.
It keeps us curious and proud of what we do.
It’s the same impulse that drives us to build the best in Accessibility features, by default, into every product we make.
It’s the same drive that leads us to support and extend education’s power as a great equalizer in this country…
It’s the same drive that leads us to advocate for the immigrants and Dreamers who make our work possible…
And to recognize that our diverse and inclusive workforce is what is going to drive the next generation of innovation.
In short, we just think that the best products in the world ought to be the best products for the world.
In accepting this award, Apple commits to deepening these efforts in the years ahead.
We celebrate the work and the vision of the many leaders in this room, who have spoken out and shown leadership in the years when too many were looking the other way.
And we call on those beyond this room, who have great power to change the world at their fingertips, and who have so far declined to use it, to put aside pride and convenience and to instead use that power to build something new.
Something that can sustain humanity, the planet we love, and the hopes of our children for many more years to come.
On behalf of all of us at Apple, congratulations to Ceres on 30 remarkable years. Thank you for this award, for your work and for your example.