Apple CEO Tim Cook on creating a clean energy future

In Brown County, Texas – flat, dry, near the geographic center of the state – Apple has invested in a joint venture to supply 100,000 homes with clean energy. This four-kilometer stretch of solar panels — nearly a million of them — will look to some like a bold step toward a clean-energy future, and to others like marketing masquerading as social conscience, what cynics would call “virtue signaling.”

“I dont do that do virtue signaling at all,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook. “I don’t believe it. We want to do hard work.”

What Cook means by hard work is making sure environmental choices make business sense: “I want to see it sticking out pencils because I want other people to copy it. And I know they’re not going to to copy a decision that is not good. financial decision.”

Apple CEO Tim Cook with CBS News’ John Dickerson at a solar installation north of Austin that can power more than 100,000 homes.

CBS News

Apple has similar investments in its clean energy goals, from Oregon to California, in China and Singapore. Cook wants to match every bit of carbon released by Apple products with clean energy and carbon capture (what’s called “carbon neutral”), from mining, manufacturing, shipping and even recycling. He has vowed to get there in just seven years, and hopes Apple’s leadership will inspire others to follow suit.

“It can be done,” he said. “And it can be done in a way that others can replicate, which is very important to us. We want to be the ripple in the pond. We want people to look at this and say, ‘I can do that too,'” or: ‘I can do half of that.’ We want people to look at this and rip it off.”

This past week, Apple announced its first completely carbon neutral product, its new Apple Watch. The company sold about 50 million watches last year, compared to more than 200 million iPhones. A carbon-neutral iPhone is the company’s holy grail, and according to Kristina Raspe, who leads Apple projects like the Texas solar panel farm, that includes Apple’s customers getting carbon neutral. “Right now, we’re focused across the company, and my department in particular, on making sure that every device that our customers own and operate, the electricity they use to charge it is offset by renewable energy,” she said .

Cook added: “This is about putting a watt into the system for every watt our customers use to power our devices.”

Dickerson asked, “Have you had to become an energy engineer in this process?”

“I don’t know if I would give myself that kind of certification!” Cook replied. “But I certainly understand a lot more than I used to.”

Cook was named Apple’s CEO by founder Steve Jobs in 2011, just months before Jobs lost his battle with cancer. Since then, Apple has become the most valuable company on the planet, worth nearly $3 trillion – nine times its value when Cook became boss.

Has Cook become braver or more cautious in that time? “I came into the role of chief executive at a time when, along with the company, I was in deep despair about Steve’s health,” he said. “And so it was a very difficult time to get over personally. And over time, you get more confidence. And you have a feel for things. You know it when you see it, and you take more risks.”

One big risk Cook has taken is entering the virtual reality competition, where other companies have faltered. Its Apple Vision Pro is scheduled for release in early 2024. But there have been some reports about it suppliers have problems keeping up with the project’s ambition.

According to Cook, the release is still on the way. “I use it regularly,” he offered.

How? “I watched the entire third season of ‘Ted Lasso’ on Vision Pro.”

Dickerson asked, “Has it been more complicated? Are the puzzles you faced creating it the same kinds you would face with the iPhone?”

“No, it’s more complex and so it requires innovation in not only the development but also the manufacturing,” he said.

Success has also encouraged Cook to speak out on civic and voting rights issues, particularly LGBTQ equality. At Apple’s campus in Austin, Texas, the diversity of the staff was evident. During one visit, Cook even took a sales call with a customer who wanted to upgrade their iPhone.

CEO Tim Cook on the phone with an Apple customer.

CBS News

“You said, ‘I don’t see myself as a celebrity,'” Dickerson said. “But you is.”

“I’m just a very ordinary person,” he said, “and people love the business. And they express that love a lot with me.”

This may be a welcoming place for Apple’s 10,000 Austin employees, but while Texas promotes its business-friendly climate, the state has pursued strong anti-abortion and anti-trans and gay legislation.

Dickerson said, “When we last spoke, you said, ‘I believe that everyone should be treated with dignity and respect and that all paths lead to equality.’ How are people supposed to think about your commitment to equality and the politics of Texas that seem to contradict that?”

Cook responded, “There will always be times, John, where we’re either selling or operating a place where we have a difference of opinion about something. But I’m telling you from the bottom of our hearts, we believe in treating everyone with dignity and respect. And so we show ourselves as a company. We believe in being part of the community and trying to advocate for change rather than ditching and walking away.”

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That world view Cook won the Anti-Defamation League’s “Courage Against Hate Award” in 2018. Today, the ADL has accused tech mogul Elon Musk of promoting anti-Semitism on his platform X (formerly known as Twitter), a charge Musk denies.

When asked if Apple should continue to advertise on Twitter, Cook said, “That’s something we’re asking ourselves. In general, my view is that Twitter is an important property. I like the concept that it’s there for discourse and there as a town square. There are also some things about it I don’t like!”

“There’s discourse, and then there’s anti-Semitism,” Dickerson said.

“Yes, which is disgusting. Just point blank, there’s no room for it.”

“So, is this something you’re constantly evaluating?”

“It’s something we constantly ask ourselves,” Cook said.

When we last spoke to Cook, it was remotely in the middle of the pandemic. Like all big companies in America, Apple is at a crossroads on how to get back to the office.

“What we did was admit that we don’t know what the best approach is,” Cook said. “And so what we decided to do was run a pilot where people would come into the office three days a week. We’re in the business of user experience, and that requires collaboration. And then we knew it had to have a whole share personal work. And we’re still in the pilot today.”

“During the pandemic, many people had uncertainty about what gives them meaning in life and re-evaluated their work choices,” Dickerson said. “And that’s part of what this coming-back-to-work is about. It’s balancing what gives you meaning. And maybe the work doesn’t. What gives you meaning in the work that you do?”

“Our work is meant to improve other people’s lives,” Cook replied. “What really turns us on and excites us is seeing what people are doing with our products, where people are doing things and we’re empowering them to do it through our products. And as long as, you know, we get that energy, it’s a good cycle. We want to do more. We want to release the next product and the next product.”

A renewable energy resource? “Here you go!” Cook laughed.

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Story produced by Ed Forgotson. Editor: Ed Givnish.

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