14 Mar Understanding the “bad guys”
First off – sorry I’ve been so quiet for ages, but I have a life update to share with y’all – I’m applying to business school! (So I’ve been spending my nights squirrelling away on practice tests for the entrance exam…soooo not as fun as blogging!)
I’ve spent about a year and a half now working on policies to reduce plastic pollution in various projects around the world. While I adore my job, I often get discouraged because almost every time we’re looking at working with industry to change their policies, the same thing happens: we come with our bottom line, they come with theirs, and every time they seem to get their way. They are usually unwilling to compromise their main goal: making money.
I’ve gone back and forth on my relationship with the “bad guys” over the years. When I was younger, it was David vs. Goliath: environmentalists may be the underdog, but we sure are scrappy, strong in our convictions and pure of heart. Well-placed and well-timed jabs at the industry would surely change their practices, right? After being disappointed time & time again at the egregious environmental violations these big players were getting away with, I started to think that Goliath was maybe just too powerful to overcome (at least in my lifetime). And really, are they the “bad guys”? They wouldn’t be empowered to undertake those violations if consumers weren’t still voting with their wallets and supporting those practices. Consumers have an important role to play in this as well – which led me to my next phase…
When I was in university, my relationship with the “bad guys” shifted once again: don’t engage. Like a bad break up, I thought that living my best life and teaching others to do the same would create a small army of people standing up to rampant consumption and changing the world from the inside out. Think about it: companies are producing single-use plastics because people are still using single-use plastics! I worked with a grassroots organisation that empowered people with the right knowledge to live low carbon lifestyles, cut out plastic, eat sustainably and generally live happier, fuller lives. Here’s the problem: converting people one at a time takes AGES. I could spend the rest of my days working towards that and it may not even work.
But what if we engaged, and in a positive way? What if we came to meetings with the industry with a fundamental understanding of their language, their priorities and their goals? It’s difficult to make changes to the supply chain or end-of-life cycle within a quarterly financial cycle when the pressure is constantly on. And remember, people working in corporations also have families to take care of and career goals to think of. Instead of fighting bitterly against them, what if we thought creatively about how we can recruit them to our side and change their practices to a more sustainable model? Studies have shown that consumers are becoming more & more aware of their impact on the environment and are looking for ways to engage in responsible consumerism. There is money to be made for companies willing to support a triple bottom line.
Right now, it’s tough to live without plastic. It’s tough to completely trace and avoid slave labour in supply chains, animal-abusive industries, high food miles and wasteful products. And it doesn’t have to be! Imagine walking into a supermarket where you don’t have to spend hours googling company’s corporate social responsibility policies before you make a purchase decision (yeah… making your own products is actually faster than how I used to shop!).I think it’s difficult to place yourself in a fight against unethical industries as a consumer and expect change. More and more, ethical and green businesses are showing to massive industry players that it can be done, and with a healthy profit margin.
By going to business school I’m really hoping I can learn more about how the system works and seek change from the inside. I still love a good old protest, but I find that people who are not environmentalists can dismiss our arguments because we’re often perceived crazy “earth-loving hippies”. Sometimes you have to put on a suit and fit in and show them that truly engaging in an ethical, low-waste lifestyle is not only good for the earth but also good for business too!
Now I want to hear from you guys! Any business majors in the house? Am I naïve to think that the business world is ready to be turned on its head? Do you know of any ethical businesses that make great models for others?
 Nielsen (2014) “Global consumers are willing to put their money where their heart is when it comes to goods and services from companies committed to social responsibility.”, June 17th, 2014 http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/press-room/2014/global-consumers-are-willing-to-put-their-money-where-their-heart-is.html