Wow! It is fascinating how prevalent and impactful palm oil is, in Southeast Asia and beyond. This article is very well done.
While glad Wilmar and others are making a push for change, I agree the problem needs to be addressed by more parties. I’m not sure the region can wait for government, or for consumers to boycott hazes however, because we can see that by then the damage is already done. In response the the above comment regarding health concerns around palm oil — if we don’t use palm oil, there’ll be another substitute out there that, possibly with worse impact. I think the solution is to make palm oil harvesting and production earth-friendly and health-friendly (if the latter is possible).
Accordingly, one point I would add to the article would be to amplify consumer awareness around not just the haze, and the knowledge of slash-and-burn behind the haze, but of palm oil itself and its implications — and especially the brands that use palm oil heavily to pressure them to be more transparent about their practices. I was previously unaware of how many brands I use contain palm oil, and where exactly that palm oil is sourced as well as those company’s supply chain practices. Certainly, I would prefer to spend my dollar on the more responsible brand, but by the time I have researched every ingredient of all of my products, it may be too late!
Ty – this a very interesting and well written article. Regarding your recommendations, and on that third bullet, I wanted to reinforce the consideration you highlighted around reducing short-term sales: indeed, I have never bought from Tyson since understanding their relative negative impact (beyond climate) across their overall value chain. That said, (a) I can afford to do so, which is simply not the case with most, and (b) I don’t think consumers like me necessarily want Tyson to die, for the major opportunities you pointed for Tyson to make a positive impact (although Cathal’s cynicism is more in-line with my personal sense of humor). Here’s what I think it would take for the majority of these newly-aware consumers that would stop buying Tyson to opt back in:
1. Tyson figures out the industry standard for negative impacts per dollar of customer money spent; I pick this denominator because while probably one of the hairier for Tyson to calculate, the clearest for the customer to understand what’s going on with his/her dollar.
2. Tyson keeps par (ideally beats) that industry standard – heck, if my dollar spent on Tyson had less negative impact than the more expensive stuff I’m buying now, count me in!
3. Tyson keeps ahead of that industry standard, because where they go, the market will go.
Obviously, this is an extremely high bar and very costly to implement. That said, I’ve already opted out of Tyson, and I would wager I’m not the only one 🙂
Piersten, I echo the above comments and take the perspective of the hyper-conscious consumer who reads books like “Wear No Evil” (lol). In the spirit of the recommendation you provided, this education has actually led me to stop shopping at places like H&M and Forever21, and for reasons beyond their climate impact. It’s not because I have money to do so, but because I have access to secondhand shops, my roommate’s closets, and the like. So, there is a possibility that consumer education may reduce H&M’s sales, unless I am an entirely isolated case.
The key question I believe the consideration of the hyper-conscious consumer brings up for H&M is: what would it take to keep an increasing pool of conscious consumers who have the ability to choose other options? For me, if H&M could not only eliminate its impact (in more ways than just GHGs) so that per unit of clothing it produced less negative impact than the industry standard, I would put my money behind this.
In the extreme case of the most hyper conscious consumer, though, I would imagine he/she would say that H&M should account for all its historical negative impacts and eliminate *all* historical negative impacts through strategic manufacturing operations it shares with other clothing companies to reduce impacts outside its own; for this extreme consumer, this is the only way H&M could be redeemable: by having net zero impact throughout its existence in the world. (Imagine, this person grows 100% of their food in his/her backyard, uses recycled everything and recycles all his/her stuff — he/she holds any/every company to the same standard.) That said, outside of the environmental impacts, this extreme consumer could likely never be satisfied due to the worker deaths resulting from H&M’s operations, which would be impossible to redeem… but that aside, for the purposes of thinking about what companies — i.e. we as leaders of companies — really need to do for our world to survive the climate crisis is to think about how to have a less-than-zero climate impact, which is much more broadly applicable beyond H&M 🙂
Rebecca – a highly relevant and provocative article. I’m going to Iceland as well this next weekend, and I think it is very important for all of us to be aware of our consequences. I’ll avoid repeating the aforementioned comment viewable to me. Regarding the consumer (a.k.a. myself) several questions arise: (a) Iceland vs. ______? (b) Limit travel overall? (c) Reduce all my emissions?
Iceland vs. ______. Is the volume of emissions or the geographical concentration of emissions via Iceland flights the key consideration for consumers to weigh? For instance, if I were instead to travel an equivalent distance this coming weekend, but to a different geography, would that be a better choice? Or is Icelandair less efficient than other craft? Or would a shorter traveling distance this weekend (to say, Miami), keep with in line the ethical framework underpinning the article?
Limit travel overall. In spite of the above questions (which would be, if I were you, very annoying), I gather the spirit of the article’s message to the consumer is more along the lines of this: “flying around the world emits a lot of GHGs; be mindful.” In that case, I feel kind of guilty for traveling home for Christmas. I hope those planes are at capacity, and if there’s more I could do to get those planes to capacity, I suppose I would try, but that would only reduce the per-person GHGs (thus my individual guilt) — but that plane’s gonna fly whether I’m on it or not at this point. As is the plane to Iceland next weekend. The central point: how can I ethically justify any plane travel?
Relatedly, another message I gather is that overall, we as consumers should seek to reduce our overall environmental impacts, which I agree with. Fly less, dispose of waste smartly, limit shopping for new clothes, take a reusable bag to the grocery store, etc. That said, the implication this ethical framework at its core is that every unit of GHG emission per person is a unit of “unethical,” so the only way to really redeem myself is to get to 0 GHG…in which case, given the impossibility of this in a vacuum, it would only be ethical for me not to exist.
The silver lining of that last concern is that – of course – we don’t live as individuals in a vacuum! Especially in our unique position at HBS as leaders who make a difference, we can do more than be carbon-zero by bringing people, organizations, and the world together to reduce GHGs, to negative GHGs per person.
Jorge, I’m fascinated by the insights in your article; I chose to write about Avery Dennison as well, naturally with substantially less knowledge than someone who actually worked on their global manufacturing projects! In that, I would be excited to hear your thoughts, as what I know simply reflects what the company has chosen to publicly state, and you were clearly in a powerful position to make impact:
First and foremost – paper! I would hope FSC and other certified materials will become cheaper over time, and that recycled material becomes more abundant and perhaps less expensive than new material. What do you think it would take for Avery Dennison’s clients – a public uproar for and/or declining stock prices for them to react? Price parity? Absolute cost savings?
Second, I was unaware each clothing tag alone traveled all around the world. Wow! To your point, that actually makes me want to buy fewer clothes, along with the environmental impact that clothes alone make. I would hope the company is evaluating costs and savings based on different prospective ways to localize or consolidate these processes to reduce emissions. Is it even possible to model this, or possible to implement? It sounds extremely complicated.
Third, regarding your first bullet point recommendation, I suspect Avery Dennison has less public brand awareness compared to its customers. For example, 2 people in our class blogged about Avery Dennison (you & me), and 25 wrote about Coca-Cola! This would make it difficult for the Avery Dennison alone to educate consumers. I wonder if there would be a way to leverage its customers who care about FSC and can make a bigger splash in consumer education. For instance, if some could agree to print “FSC certified” on their labels, with an asterisk leading to “learn more at http://www.loreal.com/...” this could be an opportunity for them to look good and generate awareness.
Finally, regarding your second bullet point recommendation, I blogged about what Avery Dennison has disclosed about its supply chain emissions reduction efforts. I gathered based on the company’s communications, these efforts have taken Avery Dennison a good ways towards their 2025 goals already. Would you propose more aggressive goals and thus more aggressive emission reduction efforts? What do you think it would take to stimulate more aspirational emission reduction efforts?