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Sustainability Faceoff: Microsoft vs. Apple

Microsoft Apple faceoff

The battle between Microsoft and Apple is practically legendary in the technology industry. Both companies offer strong products that appeal to different types of customers–Macs are traditionally geared toward design-focused users, for example–but they also differ greatly in the sustainability arena. Author R. Paul Herman teases out these differences in the new book The HIP Investor. We do the same here.

Microsoft excels in the sustainability arena, with concrete goals including a plan to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% compared to 2007 levels by 2012, a plan to phase out the use of phthalate plasticizers and BFR (brominated flame retardants) from all hardware products by the end of this year, and the expansion of greenhouse gas reporting for the company’s direct material supply chain.

But the mega-corporation could certainly stand to improve its disclosure policies. On October 31, 2009, Microsoft was removed from the NASDAQ Global Sustainability Index for failing to disclose the minimum 40% of core Global Reporting Initiative metrics required to qualify. And Greenpeace points out that while Microsoft has averaged almost $9 million in lobbying expenses since 2003, it hasn’t “demonstrated regular leadership in calling for policymakers to adopt the policies necessary to reduce emissions and drive deployment of renewable energy solutions or energy efficiency technologies.”

Like Microsoft, Apple is working on phasing out PVC and BFR from all new products. The company claims that the new iMac and MacBook computers are already free of the toxic substances. Apple also took a refreshingly outspoken stance on climate change last year when it stepped down from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which the company claimed was at odds with its support of greenhouse gas emissions regulations. And the company is increasingly open about the environmental impacts of its various products.

But Apple lost major points in January when it refused to create a full CSR report, claiming that its environmental Web site represents comprehensive accounting of its carbon footprint. The company also hasn’t provided any concrete greenhouse gas reduction or energy efficiency goals. Apple should get kudos for releasing a revealing supplier responsibility report, but the findings–underage workers, falsified records, and suppliers contracting with noncertified vendors for hazardous waste disposal–aren’t too comforting.

It’s tough to pick a winner for this faceoff, mostly because Apple does seem to be making major strides–it just won’t set specific goals. But until it does, Microsoft will remain the victor.

Check out the full HIP Investor chart below.

  Microsoft   Apple  
Overview  93,000 employees, $58.4 billion in annual
   32,000 employees, $32.5 billion in annual
Product “Virtualization” software approach
enables multiple operating systems to run on a single server, reducing
energy use by up to 90%
  MacBook family designed to be weight,
shipping, and energy efficient; on the verge of eliminating lead, arsenic
and mercury through use of LCD monitors
13 of 25:
Seek to increase green computing and drop emissions; via internal measurement,
supplier commitments and standard-setting in industry groups
  7 of 25:
Until recently, very quiet about its sustainability practices, which
are ingrained in Apple’s long time breakthrough product innovation

of 20%

Pays 100% of health care premiums, including dependents; 70% customer
satisfaction in 2009; 94% employee retention
10%  Unclear health coverage; 84% customer satisfaction in 2009; in 2006
claims that its retail store employee staff retention was 80%

of 20%

Share purchase plan allows employees to use up to 15% of their gross
salary to buy Microsoft stock at a 10% discount
Employee Stock Purchase Plan allows employees to use up to 10% of their
salary to buy Apple stock at a 15% discount

of 20%

Windows Vista has built-in power management features that can reduce
PC energy use by as much as 30%
10% Apple
was the first in the industry to be able to register to the stricter
Energy Star 4.0 standard in 2007.

of 20%

3 women or minorities on a Board of 10, equaling 30%
9% 1 female on a Board of 7, equaling 14% 5%

of 20%

Microsoft co-launched with industry peers the Climate Savers Computing
Initiative to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from PCs and servers
4% Apple is actively engaged with the Electronics Industry Citizenship
Coalition (EICC)
Human Impact

of 100%

 TOTAL 47%
Corporate Profit

of 20%

return on equity (2009)

0.1% annualized total return, including reinvested
dividends (6/2004–6/2009)

annualized total return, including reinvested dividends (6/2006–6/2009)


return on equity (2008)

annualized total return, including reinvested dividends (6/2004–6/2009)

annualized total return, including reinvested dividends (6/2006–6/2009)



Read more Sustainability Faceoffs.

HIP InvestorTable excerpted from The HIP Investor: Make Bigger Profits by Building a Better World by R. Paul Herman Copyright (c) Published by John Wiley & Sons. Used with permission.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.