7 Corporate Sustainability Initatives - When Should We High 5

Over the last few weeks there have been announcements made by several companies that have left me conflicted. The announcements range from Walmart and Target vowing to rid their shelves of a set of toxins to McDonalds promising to add healthier options to their fast food menu. I struggle with the idea of celebrating what these companies have announced because I absolutely do not want to support Walmart and McDonalds. I can appreciate that offering non-toxic products at what I can only assume will be roll back pricing or offering healthy food options are better than these companies doing nothing. But for me, it doesn't outweigh the unacceptable labour practices, environmental impacts, deforestation and intentional marketing to kids that these two corporations have made the core of their business.

And now for the flip side....I have only ever worked for major corporations. One of which I know you would not like. My job....well I am the one who develops and implements sustainability initiatives. The same type of initiatives that Walmart, Target and McDonalds are announcing.  I worked on these projects to not only reduce the impact of their operations and products but also to set them apart from the competition and to give consumers a product that had a smaller footprint. 

I guess this is the point where I jump into my big hippo-crate.  

Do I support my previous employer? Absolutely. Because I know what it takes to make improvements in one of the dirtiest industries in the world. But that doesn't mean I support any corporation that announces improvements they intent to make just because I know the hard work that goes into being able to make that announcement. When considering which companies to support it is important to look at their entire operation, their philosophies and their historical behaviour. A company may have offset the impact of their operations by putting solar panels and wind turbines on every building, but the fact that they have questionable labour practices and bully small businesses has to be taken into account.

I think that some companies are like an ex-boyfriend. It doesn't matter what they do, or what they say, you just aren't going to ever take them back. But they want you back. Oh do they want you back. For some companies announcements like these are strategic moves to keep a strong hold on the markets they currently have. To keep you as a customer or if you have already moved on to that hot guy in the coffee shop, they are trying to lure you back with their green promises.  The only question remaining is will they be able to.

How do you decide when to give a company a high 5 for their sustainability efforts? 

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  1. Jen thanks for this post. I think your exboyfriend analogy is hilarious and spot on. You do have to question the motives of companies, are they sincere? How serious is their sustainability step and more important, will they follow through? Only time with tell with the new Walmart, Target and McDonald's announcements.

  2. I once worked for a man who started a wonderful program to help families in need. His motives for doing so were anything but generous and loving ... he would realize department advancement and recognition for his efforts ... and his salary would increase (a lot). In his private life, he wasn't generous at all. We, the people who worked for him, struggled with the contradiction. In the end we decided that while his motives were wrong, the end result was that people were being helped. I guess that we'll never see companies like Walmart, Target and McDonald's lose their influence and power ... they are "institutions" in our society. Since that is the case, I have to hope that their decisions to make an improvement will have beneficial end results. It's not perfect and they have a lot to accomplish to be considered "good" in my book but it is better than nothing. Sometimes, an action has an amazing effect ... my old boss, months after realizing his gains and getting all that attention, actually started to embrace the generosity of his program. He began to believe what he preached and became a generous person. Perhaps these companies will also come to embrace a greener, healthier business model. I hope so!

  3. I hope that it is the first step on the road to real change. But when your business model is cheap cheap cheap I don't see how they will be able to really change, unless they completely change who they are.

  4. Not a single one of the three companies you mentioned will get my money. There is too high of a price for me to ever consider shopping or patronizing them. I have plenty of other options out there. Recently I visited a local coffee shop, I don't drink coffee but while I do drink tea it's much cheaper to make at home, but my grandson needed an outing. I ended up having the best meal ever out, wonderful service, privacy and a lovely building to enjoy my meal. Why would I ever grab take out from McDonald's or sit inside to eat it when I have a choice?

    When I hear about the new products these big stores announce they will carry or solar/wind power added I can't help but think it is because they are trying to make me forget everything else they are doing.

  5. Would Target get your high five? I think you could give a company a high five if the sustainable aspect of that company was in all they sell, like the Body Shop, sustainable, animal friendly and world aware. At least that's how they seem.

  6. @Laurie - I don't know that much about Target as they just came up to Canada this year, and just opened in my neighbourhood in the last few months.

    The Body Shop is a tricky one. They give the appearance of sustainability but they use a lot of toxins in their products.

  7. I think as a consumer I can only go for what I can see: initiatives are great but after all I want to be able to see it. Less pre-packaged products or in a more bio-degradable way, more locally grown/produced on the shelves.