>> Sunday, June 28, 2009
Sometimes on the weekends, I will be rambling about thoughts I've been having that week. Feel free to comment, add to my thoughts, or disagree with anything I say. But please remember that I don't like being called an idiot, even if I'm being one. So keep your comments respectful.
My husband and I have an ongoing argument about whether or not an environmentally or socially responsible company should get big. My feeling is that when a company gets too big, it loses sight of its original goals and values. And when there's too big of a gap between the people at the top and those at the bottom, the people at the top care less about how their actions affect those at the bottom.
I sometimes talk about "evil companies," which annoys my husband. He argues that businesses either have to get big or die, though frequently that involves selling out to a larger company that might not share its values. I say, Why can't they just get big enough? He says that's not the way our economy works. Etc., etc., etc. We've had this conversation a dozen times.
Some examples of companies that frequently enter into our discussion: Burt's Bees sold out to Clorox. Tom's of Maine is owned by Colgate. Dagoba Chocolate is owned by Hershey. Chipotle sold out to McDonalds. Ben & Jerry's is part of Unilever. I could go on...
I've been thinking about this topic this week for a couple of reasons. One is because I was writing about saving money on organics, and unfortunately, I think one of the ways we will see price drops in organic foods is when big business really gets involved. Namely, Walmart. And as much as I'd like to see cheaper organics, that thought still makes me sad.
But the other reason I've been thinking about this topic is because I've read a few related quotes this week by big name environmentalists who surprisingly seem to side more with my husband than me. For example...
From Josh Dorfman, the Lazy Environmentalist:
As we transform our economy—which I really believe is what we have to do—into sustainability, I just think that these large corporations are going to be part of that change. They have to be. Some of them will go out of business, but most of them are going to be here and they have to transform. These are the steps corporations have to take to transform and sometimes it’s hard for us as environmentalists to operate in this gray area. We want to see the world in terms of good guys and bad guys, black and white, and that’s not a luxury that we have if we’re really serious about creating change that’s going to make a real difference.From Jeffrey Hollander of Seventh Generation, on whether or not they will do business with Walmart now that he's stepped down as CEO:
[Up] until a year ago while we were in a very close dialogue with Wal-Mart and working to help them become a more sustainable and responsible business, we were not comfortable selling to them. But the progress that Wal-Mart has made in the past three to four years is astounding and absolutely an incredible inspiration for what’s possible of a large company. Does that mean they’re perfect today? No, but they have made more progress than just about any company that I can think of and that progress has led us to experiment with them in a small group of stores....From William McDonough, respected architect, designer, and author of Cradle to Cradle:
I don’t believe that we can solve the urgent problems that face us—whether it’s global warming, or whether it’s a crisis of fresh water or species disappearance—without aggressive leadership from the business community. Part of the role that Seventh Generation wants to play is showing business that being responsible is good business and being sustainable is good business, and that we can’t afford to have business stand in the way of the progress we need to make to become more sustainable.
[Just] as industrialists, engineers, designers, and developers of the past did not intend to bring about such devastating effects, those who perpetuate these paradigms today surely do not intend to damage the world. The waste, pollution, crude products, and other negative effects that we have described are not the result of corporations doing something morally wrong. They are the consequence of outdated and unintelligent design.And also from William McDonough:
"How can you work with them?" we are often asked, regarding our willingness to work with every sector of the economy, including big corporations. To which we sometimes reply, "How can you not work with them?"...Where do your opinons lie in this argument? Are big business and environmentalism at opposite ends of the spectrum? Or can they work together toward a sustainable future?
Eco-effectiveness sees commerce as the engine of change, and honors its need to function quickly and productively. But it also recognizes that if commerce shuns environmental, social, and cultural concerns, it will produce a large-scale tragedy of the commons, destroying valuable natural and human resources for generations to come. Eco-effectiveness celebrates commerce and the commonweal in which it is rooted.