Let me start this post with a reflection from my finance-professor days.
"Maximizing shareholder value" (or "shareholder wealth" in some books) is the stated textbook goal of a manager from a financial sharepoint; you're supposed to run the company such that it maxes out the present value of it's future cash flows. Note that maxamizing this quarter's net income isn't the goal; that could be trashing the company in the long term if you're having to cut corners today that will come back to haunt you in order to nudge your earnings-per-share up a tad.
Let me borrow a couple of slides from an old Week 1 Power-Point from Managerial Finance
Can we maximize things other than wealth?
Are there more important things than money?
Yes and no. Most stockholders aren’t overly interested in moral/ethical behavior of the company. In general, they’re looking to get a good return on their investment, and how the earnings come is of little concern.
However, we also shouldn’t assume that the stockholder has no conscience, either. We should look at the stockholder’s overall well-being. Some corporate behavior that is mildly profitable but morally objectionable should be avoided.
This isn’t your standard business textbook response, but it is a valid and defensible position for a manager wanting to manage his company in a ethical manner.
Or, signing off on corporate behavior that's not profit-maximizing but virtious might be done, expecially if the stockholder would be cool with the idea.
Leaving FIN324 behind and hitting the real corporate world, we have Apple's shareholders meeting, where CEO Tim Cook would be with me on that overall concept. Cook was clashing with a conservative group not thrilled with Apple's green policies, which put in an proposal to drop those policies "and commit only to projects that are explicitly profitable."
What ensued was the only time I can recall seeing Tim Cook angry, and he categorically rejected the worldview behind the NCPPR's advocacy. He said that there are many things Apple does because they are right and just, and that a return on investment (ROI) was not the primary consideration on such issues.
"When we work on making our devices accessible by the blind," he said, "I don't consider the bloody ROI." He said that the same thing about environmental issues, worker safety, and other areas where Apple is a leader.
He didn't stop there, however, as he looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, "If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock."
I'm not sure if Apple's sustainability policies make financial sense or not; I'd need more research to make a coherent assessment. However, if Cook thinks that pursuing such policy is in the best interest of Apple's stockholders well-being, he should do so, since that well-being extends beyond just maximizing cash value but doing the right things, like his project on blind-assessable software, which might not make money but was the right thing to do.
If you want less green and more greenbacks, a sell order on Apple might be a climate-change-skeptic's best bet, since he might not value that as a virtue. However, most of those folks must have voted with their feet already, since the proposal only got 3% of the vote.
The rest of the shareholders look to be cool with it. I'm something of a skeptic on that front (not on the 20th century temperature spike, but on policy going forward to try and slow future warming), but I give Cook a tip of the hat to going beyond just the bottom line. Granted, he's sitting on more cash than most countries, so he has the luxury to be magnanimous, but a small step away from ruthlessness deserves some respect.