Apple vs The EU: A Lesson In Brand Values

In a new ruling by the European Commission, manufacturers of phones and small electronic devices will be forced to adopt a universal charging port in a bid to reduce e-waste by 980 tons a year.

And Apple isn’t here for it.

Despite the considerable victory for consumers and the planet, Apple’s custom charging ports risk having to become uniform USB-C chargers – and as the world’s most innovative company [Boston Consulting Group], the move throws their innovation pipeline wildly off course. 

So, is Apple doing the right thing by staying true to its innovation legacy, or is there ever a right time to put brand values on the back burner?

“Innovation is the DNA of the company”

Tim Cook, a.k.a the CEO of Apple, a.k.a the man trying to fill the biggest shoes in the world, says of the company: “innovation is deeply embedded in Apple’s culture. We approach problems with boldness and ambition, and we believe there are no limits. Innovation is the DNA of the company”. 

And he’s not wrong. Apple is a force for disruptive innovation, building world-defining products since the Apple I computer in 1976. Of all the businesses listing ‘innovative’ on the values page of their brand guidelines, Apple has the license to say it with their chest. 

True innovation calls for creative solutions

As Cook said himself, Apple approaches problems with boldness and ambition. But where’s that same energy when presented with a new kind of problem; a zinger of an EU law?

Although some Apple products are already fitted with the EU-approved USB-C port, we can’t ignore the facts: the average person owns 3 mobile phone chargers, and uses 2 regularly. Buying a new model means buying a new charger. That’s a consumer problem. And the waste generated by all those unused or outdated chargers? That’s an environmental problem.

Apple’s first portless design is in the works, but still in its testing phase. If it works, it will be a hyper-innovative solution to the problems listed above – and a law-abiding one at that. 

Maybe this was all a guise to test the limits of their innovation strategy.

Innovation needs to encompass sustainable development goals

One of Apple’s core values states ‘we believe that we’re on the face of the earth to make great products’. A noble cause, but not noble enough. Aside from a well-intentioned 2030 roadmap to becoming carbon neutral, Apple has been slow to account for the e-waste consequences of their actions. 

Looking beyond the obvious profit-drivers, innovation strategies can no longer turn a blind eye to environmental impact. Instead of viewing the EU regulation as Innovation vs. Sustainability, Apple is presented with a challenge to incorporate both into its response. Innovation is now scrutinised through the lens of climate consciousness, and manufacturing giants can’t continue to play one off against the other.

For innovation to exist, there can’t be a great leveller 

The EU has been trying to pass the USB-C charger ruling for over a decade. And whilst the vision of a universal charger is a wholesome one, the reality is bittersweet. Forcing a standardised piece of equipment on global manufacturing giants pretty much Ctrl+Alt+Deletes the competition within their sector – and it’s competition that fuels innovative practice. Not to mention the plummeting levels of street cred when you’re forced to use the same charger as an Android.

So, whilst the EU ruling may open up a new path for innovation, there’s a lot to be learned from Apple’s initial response. We know it believes in innovation-over-everything, but unless that strategy aligns with the future direction of the planet, it’s a value that might come up against more of the same.

Are your brand values fit for purpose with sustainability at the forefront? Get in touch to discuss your thoughts. 

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