One Step Further – Taking Change from the Supply Chain to Consumers

The Easter long weekend not only gave us the freedom and will to “all you can sleep”, it is one true chocolate feast for younger children, who enthusiastically invest their energy to complete the Scavenger Egg Hunt. UK based multinational grocer Tesco decides to take two small steps to alleviate the negative effect of the sugar rush.  In their promotional video, the tag line “Every Little Helps” aligns well with the company’s purpose to treat the customers “a little better every day”. This time, they have added the green and sustainability feature as part of a deliverable.

The two distinctive actions are: sourcing 100% of its cocoa from programs that promote responsible cocoa when producing their own brand Easter Eggs, and patterning with LEGO to launch “Easter limited edition toy”. The interpretation regarding these moves appears to show the company’s opportunistic, short-tern objective, rather than being dedicated and committed. Nevertheless, this is a reality with most for-profit organization, where tying their brand with sustainability can potentially be strategic, while following through the action requires second thoughts. Under most of the situations, the short run profitability sets a foundation for long term adoption and implementation of the program as these pilot programs intends to test the water.

I found the idea of responsibly sourced coffee interesting, because I think most of the explicit value of this concept lies within taglines and advertisement, rather than quantifying the reduction in environmental impact measured with certain scale or standard (carbon emission, carbon footprint, waste reduction, quality increase etc.). Tesco also chooses its own product lines to promote this new initiative. This allows them to achieve media headlines and further build their brand image, but also allows for production cost control. As a multinational grocery, Tesco also carries more well know products, such as Hershey’s Kisses, Kit Kat and Kinder Eggs. As what we have seen in London Drugs and Safeway, when a homogeneous product is branded under the store’s name, they are offered at a relatively lower price compared to the product imported from its fosterer (ex. Safeway Coke and Coca Cola’s Coke). We may see this as a way for Tesco to ask for a price premium, to compensate the opportunity and tangible cost engaged in the process in order to have a more satisfactory profit margin.

When thinking more positively, this could be viewed as one of the first steps that multinational groceries intend to begin a new venture. After all, the Earth is what ultimately gives us what we eat and drink and many more. Cocoa may appears to be a smaller area when we look at other more essential food elements; however, it sets smaller starting points so that business and consumers can contribute a little every day.


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When Recycling Label Tell the Wrong Story

It is instinctive to conclude that the product is recyclable and is greener when one sees the green triangular arrow located either on the side or at the bottom of the package. Nevertheless, this seems to be a strategic and intentional mislead, as chef-turned-activist Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall discovered. In fact, the Starbucks coffee cup with a proudly printed green label only contains 1% of material that can be successfully processed and recycled by regular recycling processes. Most of the materials go directly into landfill, resulting in limited to non-existent effect on waste reduction. Here lies Hugh’s “Waste Not” campaign, where he aims to shape behaviour and trigger change. As a response, Starbucks implemented a new policy in U.K., doubling its discount (25p to 50p) to people who bring their own containers for coffee.

Companies like Starbucks and Costa did not set themselves up to be sustainable. This added focus has evolved overtime, with shifting consumer preference and the potential for profit. The tactic for Starbucks is very strategic, in the sense that it responded to the concern posed by Hugh, without significantly compromising its ability to generate revenue. The common price mark-up we see in one cup of coffee is calculated to be 67%80%, with a £ 2.10 for tall coffee in the U.K, the profit margin is thinned by about one third. I personally regard this as quite impressive for a for-profit organization. This reflected the fact that sustainability is no longer a choice in businesses, at least in developed countries; and it has become a requirement.

What appear to be more impressive are Starbucks’ PR and associated departments, and its long range planning horizon. When negative results leaked out, it is more logical to respond to the criticism with a remedy, and then further investigate this matter. The remedy can technically be revoked or altered any time. As well, another question here is what percentage of consumer is actually conscious about such news, and is at hear, an advocate or active practitioner. This seems to be always at question, because people may appear to be following the trend, but may not pay that much attention when it comes to day to day details. Starbucks has found a hole in the recycling classification system, and produced something that is coated with recyclability. Since most people may not necessarily invest their time into discovering the truth, these cups end up falling through the cracks. This simply results more inefficiencies. Starbucks is not lying. However, the end result appears to be as ineffective as if the label is not present.

Can we conclude that the recycling label has been abused? Probably yes. Nevertheless, we are unclear of Starbucks’ actual intention in this case. I feel that unless this set of specialized, professional knowledge can become public knowledge, there would still be areas for improvement, and the opportunity to make mistakes.




When Companies Unite to Make Visible Changes

Lots of claims are showing positive results. There are companies specialized in assessment and promotion of green measures, which encourages companies to add sustainability into the formula. Nevertheless, why are we not observing visible changes? It would be an overstatement to claim that Corporate Knight, PwC, and UN Global Compact-Accenture CEO study analyses things from a rosy lens; however, the publication of the hard numbers should be alarming.  Why do the actions appears to be incoherent with observations, claims, and beliefs?

Remly has communicated some extraordinary figures, where 74% of CEO believes that “environmental, social, and governance (ESG) data and sustainability efforts” are material considerations that are at core for the long-term success of companies. The UN survey affirmed that 91% of the 750 companies regards climate as a key issue for their future success, solidifying that the preservation has penetrated the day-to-day routine of the “evil economic giants”. Even more interesting, Corporate Knights discovered that 87% of its top 100 knights award the CEO through bonus in return for achieving the organization’s sustainable objectives.

What is thought-provoking; however, is people’s attitude on sustainable goals versus monetary targets. The latter is deemed to be much more conventional which contrasts with an almost “contradictory looking” environmental objective. Despite that more and more companies are adding sustainability into the formula to further boost their balance sheet, most consumers still regard this as a CSR – more noble and dignified. There is an implication from Corporate Knights, which advocates consumers to raise their standard and expectation when making a purchase decision. Consequently, the business will make the adjustment, so that their product can gain more popularity. Nevertheless, there is still a link missing to trigger an action. We need a more concrete answer than “because we should protect environment for the future generations and we should respect Earth” when asked why one should engage in sustainable behaviour.

Often times, as individuals, we tend to claim that we are not powerful to enough to make impressive changes. However, with more powerful business leaders, who take control of a larger population, we would expect the change to be more obvious, although this is not necessarily the case. We see company getting increasingly conscious; however, we still see them using excessive packaging, utilizing cheaper labour in third world countries, discharging waste into water streams. It is not to say that they are not trying hard enough; but we might be missing the point here. Sustainability may be one of the many objectives that companies consider, or claim to consider. When this is tied to economic performance and opportunities, there is also an incentive for these companies to paint their image with suitability. Sustainable objective is something that needs to be tracked. It should also be normalized, as one of the many strategic goals for companies, rather than being separately treated as a bonus perk.

The Cost of Human Advancement is Nature – Reflections on the Movie “The Mermaid” By Stephen Chow


If the Earth does not even contain a sip of clear, drinkable water or an atom of clean air, then there would be no point for human beings to pursue for wealth and profit since survival would be an impossibility.

—From Prologue

Back in the ancient times, human beings live in harmony with the fishes and other creatures. More broadly speaking, they live in harmony with every other component of the entire ecosystem. Their swelling greed brings increased ambitions, which ironically leads to innovation and technological advancements.  The Mermaid told a story about sustainability and restoration, a tragedy about destruction and reconstruction, and a satire about the societal advancement and desire. It is not only rare for a Chinese movie to talk about catastrophes and failure of mankind, sustainability is also a rare breed to be observed on the big screens. This may have proven, partly, the point made by Jennifer Elks in her comments about the new trends of sustainability with China on a rise with the Millennial generation.

In the movie, the Company owned by the protagonist purchased an entire gulf, with the will to profit by landfilling the water bodies and building high rises. The “ethical” and “sustainable” methodology was to emit sonar into deep sea levels, to dive away the fishes and planktons through severe injuries or death. The scientists also pursued a differentiation strategy by using sonar with unique wavelengths for identified species of different mass.  One of the most striking scenes for me was the hundreds and thousands of plastic bottles that were tied together, hanging from the stony ceiling of the cliff. Ocean plastics, after being disposed inaccurately, become nightmare for the creatures. Nevertheless, I feel that pure statistics and graphics have their limits. Human learn by experience, and until they are able to fully immerse and experience the agony imposed by their actions, it may be difficult to trigger an alternation of behaviour. Moreover, it would also be much more effective if we are able to physically experience a catastrophe. This is about learning the lesson in the hard way, which internalizes the values and beliefs. Although the price paid is grand, the volume of thought-provoking, follow up campaigns can also be more powerful, more trustworthy, and more effective.

I always feel that change cannot be achieved with an individual. The need to change and the desired action is often invented, by a group of individuals, with the objective to gain more influence. However, human beings seem to generally be a passive responder, reacting only to unavoidable consequences and responsibilities. There are still sometime before the environment becomes the one and single pressing issue that can no longer be ignored. The normative analysis tells people to become active and engaged, while the positive analysis indicates that people are putting their dependence on each other, without truth progressing as a unity.