Tuesday, March 20, 2012

If they don't die they could buy- The Environment, Retail and the Bottom Line

Happy Spring Equinox! EcoYogini gives a rant on corporate, retail culture in Canada....

Last evening I did my husband a favour and was a guest speaker for his second year commerce class. (Yep, my husband is still in University, guess you can't really do anything with a Sociology Degree, who knew? Accountant it will be!). Although I was supposed to be "last resort" I quickly became Plan A as no  one in his group had any "business-y" connections. So a 45 minute talk on Consultation Strategies it was!

I was one of three speakers, one of which was the Executive Vice President of Loblaws Canada (Superstore, Zehrs, SaveEasy etc). A quick google search of "Loblaws+environment" and you see a slew of news items that pop up favouring Loblaws in a positive light with regards to environmental policy.

My personal experience, above all other bits of information, is that big stores such as the Atlantic Superstore (and Sobeys) carry more imported produce, meat and food items than any local food. I don't typically feel like I'm doing the environment a huge favour when I shop there, especially since they have such a poor selection of local food items.

I had an inkling that the EVP of Loblaws might be an interesting corporate culture, master of the bottom line, and I wasn't disappointed.

It was interesting sitting and listening to this EVP pay lip service to Loblaws commitment to "making our environment better than it is" (instead of stop destroying it) and their "environmental policies". He named a few: how Loblaws began charging for plastic bags in the central and western parts of Canada. Unfortunately, he had to admit it was a huge failure here in Atlantic Canada...

His talk was a study of conflicting statements:

Proudly stating that Loblaws cares deeply about the environment with the products they offer, charging for plastic bags to discourage use as opposed to for the extra revenue, 100% fundraising to their children's charity completely on a volunteer basis.

Interspersed within the main discourse of:

  • Finding new and weekly ways to save money. Every penny earned is worth it, the more profit the company can make is First Priority (*but* don't forget that we charge for plastic bags only because we care about the environment, NOT for the extra money!).
  • It's all about finding new customer pockets. How can we maximize different cultural potential consumers and encourage them to buy our products? Ways to take advantage of different ethnic groups, age populations and of course, female shoppers (his comments on ethnicity and women were insulting to say the least. He actually said "some ethnic groups are really LOUD").
  • How important it was to keep good relationships with their main suppliers; Coke, Proctor and Gamble (as he dropped a few names). (But don't forget how Loblaws is working hard to assure products are sourced and manufactured responsibly! Never mind that their biggest suppliers contribute to slave labour, carbon emissions and toxic chemicals in personal hygiene products).

My favourite quote of the evening: "We do our children's charity because it's the morally right thing to do. And because these children could be future customers"
(read: If they don't die, they could buy)

At the end of his talk I was so disenchanted from his business-speak, greenwashing spin-offs of "Win the profit!!" sports game analogies that I realized two things:

  1. There's a reason I work in a helping professions- I could never work in such a soul sucking, constant "spinning it" corporate culture. 
  2. Big businesses will only be ethically and environmentally responsible if it helps their bottom line, or they're forced to because of government regulation.

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