Over There (in the UK)

July 21, 2006 at 10 PM

The Wal-Mart Age

Al Gore is preaching “go green” to Wal-Mart, and it sounds like they’re listening. Is this the beginning of a sea change in corporate America?

A friend and I had a philosophical debate the other day about how to make improvements in society. One of the things we agreed on is that we’ve lost faith in government’s ability to achieve positive change. That isn’t saying that government policy makes no difference — it does — but the policies change so slowly and so cautiously that rarely can we observe any immediate impact.

By contrast, a large corporate entity like Wal-Mart can make an enormous impact in many avenues of life simply by the decisions it makes on a daily basis. I don’t want to belittle the contribution of individuals to environmental waste and degradation, but I do believe that as consumers, many of us will always base our purchasing decisions on what is easy, what is cheap and what is convenient. Many people will never buy organic food if it costs more and you have to go to a specialty store to find it. We will not think about how much oil was needed to produce our ground beef. We will choose clothes on the basis of style and price and not on whether pesticides were used to grow the cotton. We depend on the businesses we patronize to make these decisions for us because we have other things to worry about.

In the near future, I think the environmental battles of our day will be fought in the corporate boardrooms. If corporate decision makers can be convinced that their company can reduce costs while improving their environmental image, well, which CEO wouldn’t jump at that chance?



“We depend on the businesses we patronize to make these decisions for us because we have other things to worry about.”

I believe that we don’t worry about these decisions because at the moment we are not confronted with their implications. The environmental and social consequences of our decisions rarely resonate within our own communities; rather, they are felt thousands of mile or a few generations away. Activism in these areas is effective when it makes people aware of these consequence and it therefore becomes difficult to ignore them. I wonder to what extent the corporate environment is one in which the individual is confronted with the consequences of their decisions. I know I for one am much more cavalier about the environmental consequences of my decisions at work because I feel like I am an agent of the organization’s agenda, rather than my personal values. I think that in North America, there is a pervasive sense of disconnection between the personal and the professional.

Emma | Jul. 28, 2006 — 5 AM

Previously: Zizou

Subsequently: Illustration Saturday

July 2006
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In Earshot

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