From the Tim Cook talk at the Goldman Sachs Conference, as transcribed by iMore:

And y'know, for everyone at Apple, we're all there to make great products, and really enrich peoples' lives, and we believe in leaving the world better than we found it. And so, along those lines, our greatest contribution to society will always be through our products, because we can empower people to do some incredible things there, but we also put our energy into a program called ConnectEd, and are working with the administration on bringing our technology to kids in very underserved schools that desperately need technology.

We partnered with the Global Fund, with a focus on eliminating the transmission of AIDS from mother to child, made a huge โ€” we're up over a hundred million dollars in donations here, and this saves millions of lives.


And just today, we're announcing our biggest, boldest, and most ambitious project ever: We are building โ€” we're partnering with First Solar โ€” to build a solar farm in Monterey County, so not too far from here. It's 1300 acres. It's enough power for almost 60,000 California homes. ...

And I think, just to make this point, because I know this is a financial conference, and I'm sure some of you are interested in, well, "Is that a good use of funds or not," and, y'know: quite frankly, we are doing this because it is right to do, but you may also be interested to know that it's good financially to do it. We expect to have a very significant savings because we have a fixed-price for the renewable energy, and there's quite a difference between that [renewable energy] price and the price of the brown energy. And so we're thrilled to continue on this course of doing things that really leave the world better than we found it.

Emphasis mine, of course.

Let's not beat around the bush -- Tim Cook sees himself (via Apple) as much more than a CEO of a successful company. He sees being CEO of Apple as the chance to be a corporate savior. He wants to solve the world's problems, and, bless his heart, make a buck while doing it.

And you know what? Good for him. If you're sitting atop the company with the largest market cap in the world (ironically and tellingly beating out Exxon/Mobil for the crown), the only one whose culture's really not worried about answering to shareholders worried about tomorrow's profits, and you're driven to push that money for real, significant change, good heavens, kudos for you. It worries me that the Jobsian reality distortion field crops up a little -- has Apple really saved millions of lives with a hundred million dollars of AIDS donations? No. No, you haven't. To even imply that you have is, at best, horrendous marketing bluster. But let's stipulate Cook wants to find the overlap between profit and the ability to do good.

And man, to think about a company looking to do good with "first world problems" blows my mind. Gates didn't start doing Good with a capital G until he cashed out, didn't he? (If he started earlier, I'm not giving him enough credit. Looks like he did, but look at how Gates' Good work is separate from profit -- this really is Cook's trick.) And for Gates to start with issues like malaria, where a few bucks really can save a life, is brilliant. I've taken a few bucks of Fansidar and had the malaria beasties go away.

But malaria and water and some of the Gates' Foundation's other initiatives aren't where you can get a company to do the most good. If malaria was a profit-making enterprise, pharmaceuticals would've already jumped in and treated it. (This is far from a condemnation of Gates! Selfish sacrifice is A Good Thing, but that has to come from somewhere. Profit-driven Good is simply another, sustainable way to get a different sort of Good done.)

So, in a fairly Deleuzian move, Cook is going to find the intersection of capital and Good. It can happen with energy. More importantly, it can happen, as Tesla shows us, with cars.

Short of electric cars powered by coal plants, I can't think of anything much worse for the environment, once you multiply pollution by population, than cars powered by internal combustion engines burning gasoline. Can you imagine how much cleaner the world would be if just the cars in the US went to clean power? If just the commuter cars?

Think about this. I remember reading a few years back when interest rates on new cars were about zero that just getting new cars onto the road and the old ones off helped make us significantly cleaner. We weren't even buying cars with better MPG, just ones that burned more cleanly.

The pollution caused by gasoline powered commutes is mind-boggling, and the technology for replacing them is finally here. And so is profit. And that makes this not just the right thing to do, but the Right Thing for Tim Cook's Apple to do with its capital.

As many have already noted, Apple knows a thing or two about batteries. It knows something about software. And it certainly knows about designing something end users want. If you can combine these skills with a new proficiency for creating car-sized hardware, well, maybe the "BMW of computers and smartphones" can become the BMW of battery-powered cars too.

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