13 September 2022

No plastic cups for me, please

Author: Marina Egizaryan – International Part Time MBA student

Studies have shown how profit can no longer be the unique, final aim of business and how this approach is ultimately detrimental. Sustainability comes first, and economic growth is one of its positive consequences. Comment on how you have come to appreciate sustainability in your work and school environment.

Once my friend asked me why I take a plastic cup for my takeaway coffee (I know it’s not Italian style at all, but I still do it) when you only use it for a minute  ̶  and it struck me that it is just a habit and nothing more.

Some time ago at a pickup point, I asked a guy if they recycle paper packages, of which they have a lot. He looked at me surprised and said no, they just put them into the garbage. It hit me again that people do so many things just because they are used to doing them.

Even though we can read and learn and hear a lot about how and what should be done in terms of environmental sustainability and its incredible importance nowadays, this knowledge only works when you feel that you cannot do things differently. At some point, it will be your inner sense that tells you how to do things right, and you just do not have any other option. I took my own paper package from that pickup point and put it to be recycled with no other options in mind.

What I believe is possible and will become an issue soon is that for business at some point it will be the same. That it won’t be a choice, but it would be the only possible option to comply with sustainability policies instead of just seeking more profit.

During this MBA I have already come across one particular case several times. It must be a well-known one. However, when one company is used to illustrate several absolutely different business fields, it definitely catches one’s attention. I am talking about the Patagonia case, which has been used as an example during the strategy class and, moreover, during a supply chain management lesson.

Just a few words about it (as I guess everyone already knows it well). Patagonia was founded by a passionate surfer and rock climber and during all its life, it was managed according to his principles in all ways, starting from what to produce up to social initiatives to be supported by the company.

Patagonia was one of the first to use organic cotton, disregarding the fact that this increased the costs by 30%. They invest a lot in R&D to develop sustainable fabrics, dyes, etc. Patagonia was committed to reducing the environmental impact of its products at every step of the production process. Moreover, they choose all the contractors with the same policy in mind and all their employees follow the same ideas.

One more thing worth mentioning is Patagonia’s approach to using less. In times of fast fashion and an all-consuming society, being called upon to reuse and, in general, to use less in terms of clothes sounds surprising, at least from the commercial point of view. However, Patagonia is deliberately motivating its customers to be more aware of what and how much they use but not how much they spend.

First, lead by strong personal example: Patagonia is able to keep and follow the same principles by having different people in the management team and passing on and sharing the same values.

What has impressed me lately has been Patagonia’s reaction to recent social events. Growing and going global still hasn’t stopped them from being socially responsible. During the latest abortion crisis in the USA, Patagonia supported dignity of choice and even encouraged people to share their opinions on peaceful protests.

“We’re in business to save our home planet”: these words raised a question in my economically driven mind: “But if it is less profitable, why do they do it?” And it was extremely hard to believe that world-known leading companies choose to be better, choose to take care of the environment and social wellbeing instead of going for extra profits.

At some point, such strategic choices can be explained by marketing benefits and maybe the final environmental impact is still not that small. I would say that the most important point is that they raise this issue, make people talk, discuss it, and maybe then, they don’t accept an extra plastic cup.

I fully understand that it is a big journey for businesses to change their attitude, but even small steps can make a difference. Such initiatives should be supported by all involved: government, shareholders, managers and consumers.

Taking into account the whole changing reality, I hope that soon, step by step, most businesses will realize the importance of non-profit issues: having the best employees, bringing social benefits, thinking about the future and many other aspects which can only be achieved by changing global attitudes to the importance of sustainability.

What I believe to be a starting point for heading along this uneasy road is having the inner feeling that you cannot do it any other way but the right one: you just do not accept another plastic cup.

13 September 2022

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