The Hypocrisy of “Sustainability” in Businesses

Although I always get goosebumps when I hear that big company X has taken the grand initiative to source all their electricity from renewable sources, or that big company Y cut their use of plastic by eliminating straws or plastic bags, my small “awwwww” moment is often followed by an inevitable cringe….

Why do I feel that way?

Let me explain.

Apple is a great example. I was very impressed to learn recently about how Apple is actively integrating sustainability as part of its Global Chain Supply Management, and how the company is always striving for more ways to reduce their environmental footprint. Did you know that Apple is currently 100% powered by renewable energy? That’s amazing – cue the goosebumps.

Right here is the summary of their strategy, and their future sustainable plans, and it looks perfect, they even integrated an autonomous android disassembling parts of Apple products to be recycled – intensify the goosebumps!

Learning all that, I was curious to actually look at their 2017 environmental report (most companies now release detailed environmental and sustainability report quarterly or yearly)…

Here it is,if you wanna have an idea, for yourself: Environmental Report for Fiscal Year 2017.

Again, sexy presentation, right? It’s like they have everything nailed down!

…But when you scroll down, all the way to the actual data, here is where the cringe feeling gets triggered …

If you look at the numbers that they present in the very last sections presenting the performance indicators, you can see that yes, the company has indeed significantly decreased its percentage of emissions and wastes (all over their supply chain) throughout the years… BUT the actual numbers themselves are still increasing… by a LOT.

Wastes, water usage, use of natural gas (which some company count as clean energy – let me tell you, it’s not-), and many more negative items … increase.

Now, Listen…

Apple integrating real concrete steps and proving businesses worldwide that Sustainability can rhyme with profitability, and that sustainable business practices will most likely result in higher revenues, from lowered costs, consumers fidelity, stakeholders trust, etc… is an incredibly step forward!

Leading the movement like this, and showing transparency by providing the data (because no, they’re not yet mandated to do so, legally) is a real testament of their will to improve.

But, 

If you go back to my Humble definition of sustainability, and back to the basics, I wonder if you get the same impression as I do…

How can we classify a company as more Sustainable when they’re selling exponentially more, using more, and marketing more, to a fault?

This is where, I think, Apple is one of the best example that we could have chosen:

    • Their products are essentially inessential (please, don’t start typing about how you can’t survive without your iphone – oh mah gawwwwd -… I mean survival essential).
    • Their products are super pricey, in no way allowing low income families to access to them.
    • Their products are marketed in a where the consumers feel that they need to update their product every 2 years or so. Most U.S. carriers now offer popular leasing plans, where you can “upgrade” your phone every year…

So, in my opinion, yes, there is a little bit of hypocrisy, because they know that producing this much, even with the best practices, has a brutal effect on earth…

To illustrate my point by a counterexample,

I think one company with a sincere sustainability focus is Pantagonia (which is apparently very popular with millennials)! For years, they have been running a marketing campaign informing the customers about the environmental footprint of their products (even if they also have incredible sustainable practices) and asking them NOT TO BUY THEIR PRODUCTS!

… but then again, you just know that they’ve sold more products with this campaign… CRINGE…

So yeah,

I just wanted to share the bittersweet feeling I often get when these things happen…

Please don’t misinterpret my words as me saying that I’m boycotting these companies. I am NOT. 

In fact, I really like Apple, and I own an Iphone (that I do not upgrade every two years though). I think their overall strategy is well established, and the fact that they’re leading the tech world into integrating sustainable practices in their operations is invaluable, right now. 

One step at a time.

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