A new challenge for Apple

A customer (L) is greeted by Apple employees as she enters the Hong Kong Apple store to get an iPhone 5 on September 21, 2012. Apple's iPhone 5 hit stores in Hong Kong with queues of devotees undeterred by a lukewarm welcome from experts for the smartphone and complaints about its new mapping system. AFP PHOTO / Philippe Lopez (Photo credit should read PHILIPPE LOPEZ/AFP/GettyImages)


(MoneyWatch) The other day, my daughter asked me what cool new product Apple would bring out next. I don't know, I said: What do you think they should do?

She thought about it for a moment and then came up with a great answer.

"Instead of making more cool stuff for cool people who already have more stuff than they know what to do with," she said, "I think they should

- stop using sweatshops
- pay all their people decently
- do more manufacturing in the U.S.
- eliminate their carbon footprint
- reduce waste.

"I don't," she added, "really want another Apple product until they start using some of their imagination on stuff that counts. After all, they have more money than the U.S. government. If they won't do the right thing -- who will?"

She has a point. Apple may be cutting edge in its design but it isn't in anything else it does (unless you count its hedge fund.) Yet there are great companies like Interface and Desso that are proving it is possible to run a manufacturing company on a cradle-to-cradle basis: Where everything is recycled or re-used, people are paid decent wages and where any environmental damage is repaired. Business commentary talks endlessly about the need for innovation but colored Oreos, new sizes of Reese's cups and new flavors of popcorn aren't great leaps forward. More impressive is the kind of innovation coming out of companies like Method, which finds ever more inventive way to shrink packaging and eliminate toxic materials. Or Eileen Fisher which, in its Green Eileen stores, is re-furbishing or recycling old product.

So if Apple is so smart, is it smart enough to do what it does -- better?

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    Margaret Heffernan has been CEO of five businesses in the United States and United Kingdom. A speaker and writer, her most recent book Willful Blindness was shortlisted for the Financial Times Best Business Book 2011. Visit her on www.MHeffernan.com.