Perhaps the most rewarding insight gained from the course came from both my experiences with my peers and the variety of corporate social responsibility (CSR) approaches I was able to discern from the organizations we spoke to. The fact that even the most detached figures in the corporate world call for change in sustainability practices surprised me. Whether businesses truly commit to achieving their promises depends on the company’s culture. I tend to have a pessimistic outlook when it comes to believing in most of these business’ advertised sustainability agenda.
My peer’s inspiring slams were quite insightful; even though they care about different issues, the underlying theme is that they hope to work towards a solution using similar tool such as research, service, or self-led change in their future careers. These tools and mechanism for finding solutions echo a lot of what we heard from corporations regarding moving towards a more sustainable future.
Quite frankly, CSR can be easily misconstrued as a premise of marketing. Few corporations are truly integrating CSR into their DNA and leading the march in transforming the global supply chain into the circular economy loop. For instance, Evian is a prime example of what I am referring to. Evian preaches sustainability yet they produce six million water bottles each day. The company vehemently proclaims to leverage its global voice to drive consumer behavior change around plastic waste and recycling by 2025. The company is launching a #herothezero initiative to drive the awareness of the need for change and to proliferate consumer knowledge about circularity. However, there is no information on their website regarding where all the downstream plastic will end up. This lack of detail was also reflected by our tour guide’s comments regarding the company’s approaches to tackle sustainability. It is important to note that my own independent research shows that polyethylene terephthalate resin bottles are collected and turned into high-quality polyester or new bottles in Japan contrary to our tour guide’s claim that the Japanese market strictly prefers virgin plastic. This inferior level of transparency in downstream practices is similar to that of Nespresso’s shortfalls in recycling only 25% of sold capsules. In conclusion, the overarching lesson is that business has an eminent potential in driving the force for change in sustainable practices, but questions remain on whether businesses will fully maximize their potential. I hope the future moves prove me wrong.
Despite the overwhelming optimism shared amongst my peers, I struggle to foresee a drastic shift in business practices and culture within the next twenty years. Competing companies and customers can partly serve as whistleblowers to pressure other companies’ shift from short-term to long-term scope in CSR operations. However, the ripple effect is too slow for substantial change to occur across all industries and to prevent our oceans from housing more plastic than fish in time for 2050 as predicted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation. If the status quo persists, we will soon reach unavoidable levels of pollution before the problem is unanimously addressed. Consumers need more than knowledge to motivate corporations towards practicing sustainable practices. The most logical solution at this late stage is for governments to set policy standards coupled with consumer activism so that corporations actually meet the goals they set. For example, a carbon tax hold all companies accountable and thereby pressure shareholder to lobby for progressive corporate change.
Mosaic fountain of the original source of Evian spring water, Évian-les-Bains, France.
Weekend trip to Barcelona, Spain.