Corporations Must Evolve Beyond Capitalizing on Sustainability

Feb 11, 2018

Commentary: I know that we are supposed to be grateful that corporations
like Dunkin' Donuts and McDonald's are committing to sustainability by
investing in reusable products. For instance, McDonald's has vowed to
get rid of all non-recyclable packaging by 2025, and Dunkin' Donuts has
followed suit by pledging to use paper coffee cups instead of foam cups
by 2020.

But don't these moves feel a bit underwhelming? If McDonald's wanted to introduce
a new variety of bacon cheeseburger, the product would be invented,
patented, manufactured, distributed and sold all over the world in
months. It would not take 7 years.

 I get that these corporations may have contracts with wholesalers
who rely on their business, but can't they afford to buy their way out
of these agreements? Can't they afford to invest their millions in new
ventures? Can't they work to transform their actual business model?
Frankly, these changes should have happened years ago.

In his award winning book Fast Food Nation, Eric Schlosser wrote: "It's
not a question of McDonald's vanishing from the face of the earth. It's
a question of these companies assuming some more responsibility for what
they're selling."

The bottom line is that more radical changes are needed than 7 year
phase in plans. The way that these fast food companies slaughter animals
needs to change now. The money spent on advertisements compared with
community development needs to change now. The waste of water needs to
change now. The way their employees are treated needs to change now. The toxins
that are put into the foods needs to change now. The lack of nutritious
value in their meals needs to change now. The world does not have time for
phase in plans and far away pledges. We need change now.

Studies have shown that 20% of the world consumes 80% of the world's
resources. 5,000 people die each day because of dirty drinking water. 1
billion people are going hungry. 50% of the grain traded around the
world goes to cattle feed and bio-fuels. 40% of the arable land across
the planet has suffered long-term devastation. 13 million hectares of
forests have been depleted. One mammal in 4, one bird in 8, and one
amphibian in 3 are threatened with extinction. 12 x more money is spent
on military aid than expenditures on aid to developing countries. 3
quarters of the fishing grounds are no longer viable. The average
temperature of the last 15 years have been the highest ever recorded.
200 million climate refugees are anticipated by 2050.

I'm sorry McDonald's but your 2025 plan won't cut it. We need action
now. And I'm sorry Dunkin' Donuts, but your paper coffee cup strategy is
not good enough. We need so much more than these paltry overtures.

Naomi Klein is a brilliant analyst of capitalism. In her book This Changes
Everything, the Canadian author writes: "For a quarter of a century, we
have tried the approach of polite incremental change, attempting to bend
the physical needs of the planet to our economic model’s need for
constant growth and new profit-making opportunities. The results have
been disastrous, leaving us all in a great deal more danger than when
the experiment began."

Elsewhere in that manifesto she states: "A powerful message—spoken in
the language of fires, floods, droughts, and extinctions— is telling us
that we need an entirely new economic model and a new way of sharing
this planet. Telling us that we need to evolve."

With Klein's words in mind, what we don't need is McDonald's to turn
sustainability into another way for their company to make money. We
don't need to congratulate Dunkin' Donuts if it is just covering how it
really pollutes. What we need is revolutionary change. We need these
corporations to understand that their very business model is out of sync
with the needs of the planet.

George Cassidy Payne
Rochester, NY