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Corporate Green Restructuring

Two recent announcements from mega corporations touting their own green practices are a mixed blessing.

Starbucks has announced that its paper coffee cups in Canada will now contain 10% recycled material. Surprisingly, this is the first recycled paper product in the industry that contacts the food directly, and it took 8 years to engineer.

Walmart has announced a plan to reduce packaging by 5% over 5 years on the products it sells from suppliers. The stated purpose of this change is to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I say these things are mixed blessings because, although the changes are technically positive, in the bigger picture they are miniscule and do not acknowledge the urgency of the environmental problems we face. They are half-hearted attempts to build a “green reputation”, and perhaps to ease the guilt of environmentally aware consumers slightly, while continuing to profit from the same destructive practices that have always been in place.

I can guarantee you that both Starbucks and Walmart have aggressive plans in place for future growth. Both corporations will aim to open more locations, produce more goods, and sell them to more people in upcoming years. If they did not plan to do this, they would be failing their stockholders.

This fundamental continuing growth, of course, will wipe out any benefits of these incremental packaging changes. If, for example, while Walmart is reducing packaging by 5% over 5 years, the corporation grows by even 10% (a very conservative estimate) the net result will be that there is more packaging in landfills and more greenhouse gases in the air in 5 years than there is today.

Dipping your toe in the water is not the same as taking a bath. Don’t let these companies off the hook so easily.

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