Apple Asks, ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor?’

What makes a good neighbor? Does cutting a $2.5 billion check to the community count?

Apple announced this week that it will invest that amount, or half the $5 billion cost of its new headquarters in Cupertino, California, “to address the housing availability and affordability crisis” in the state. The move, of course, is a long way from focusing on profits, but experts say it is the latest example of how important companies see today’s so-called purpose movement.

As Divina Gamble, a senior client partner and co-leader of Korn Ferry’s Nonprofit practice, puts it, there are no regulations that require companies to be good corporate citizens, “but corporate social responsibility is becoming as normal and as expected as having recycling bins, a diversity strategy, a harassment policy, and a wellness program.”

To be sure, for many firms, part of the appeal of the purpose movement is attracting business. Gamble says that both investors and consumers increasingly want to invest their money in companies that align with their values, and a company like Apple, whose products are staples of the millennial generation, could “quickly lose consumers if they are seen as not caring about the environment, equity, and broader social issues.”

Certainly, affordable housing has become an important social issue, especially in Apple’s home state of California and in the Silicon Valley area. In addition to hiring higher-paying positions, tech firms employ thousands of people in low-wage jobs, including administrative and support roles.

“The wages for these jobs make it very difficult for employees to live nearby,” says Jamen Graves, a Korn Ferry senior client partner who specializes in leadership and talent consulting, who works with Apple. Moreover, the inflated housing costs don’t just affect tech company workers, but also the teachers, service workers, and first responders who work across Silicon Valley.

Apple executives described its $2.5 billion investment as a civic responsibility and illustrative of its commitment to “being a good neighbor.” Others are following the trend, too: Alphabet, Amazon, and Microsoft, among others, have also pledged money toward the housing crisis in Silicon Valley and Seattle.