Let’s Celebrate Apple’s Uncanny Ability For Leadership

When the first reliable leaks announced, in June 2020, that Apple’s upcoming iPhone 12 wouldn’t pack a charger or a headset, many, even the brand’s own customers, were unhappy. When the company launched the phone without them, in a significantly smaller box, and citing environmental reasons, a tsunami of complaints was unleashed: this was just a way to squeeze more money out of customers, it wouldn’t reduce electronic waste … Meanwhile, brands like Samsung or Xiaomi even made ads laughing at Apple’s move, and pretty much suggesting that this was one road they wouldn’t be following the company down.

What happened? Guess what the next model that Xiaomi has brought out doesn’t include? Or Samsung’s latest and the next generation? What a surprise! No charger, citing precisely the same environmental reasons as Apple: to reduce waste and to be able to pack more units in each box, thus lowering the carbon footprint from shipping costs.

Soon, the entire industry will adopt a standard that was once ridiculed. A measure that Apple will have achieved simply by leadership: having the courage of its convictions to withstand a storm of criticism, knowing that what its competitors criticized today, they would imitate tomorrow.

Tablet and phone chargers actually make up barely 0.1% of total e-waste, some 54,000 metric tons. If we consider only the portion that Apple generated, we would be talking about half or less, at most, about 25,000 metric tons, or 0.05% of the total. However, someone has to take the step of starting to lower that number, of creating awareness among users that all those chargers accumulated over the years make no sense, and get all the other manufacturers to incorporate the new standard and make the reduction of electronic waste one of their goals.

This is how change happens. When environmentalists began campaigning to stop stores giving out free plastic bags, which now clog up our rivers and oceans, there were protests that it was just a way for retailers to make more money by forcing consumers to pay for them. Now, several years later, plastic bags are no longer our main environmental problem: plastic bottles are now the next enemy to be beaten. Disposing of single-use plastics or soft drink straws seemed like a small step until almost every country, including the huge Chinese market, took it seriously and did so too.

When companies like Patagonia, Ecoalf and many others began recycling plastic and fishing net waste for their garments, many interpreted it as superficial or fashion. Now, when the fashion giants begin to be forced to incorporate such materials into their collections and a struggle is practically unleashed to obtain such waste, things are already beginning to look different.

Leadership is taking a measure knowing that you will be criticized knowing that you will be imitated. I said it a long time ago: “the value of innovation is not in avoiding being copied, but in getting everyone to want to copy you.” Think about it. These kinds of measures are typically costly in the short term, but generate medium- and long-term benefits. More importantly, they separate leaders from followers.

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