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Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Simple Plan

Michael Johnson

As I was watching Food Inc this past week they talked about an organic Dairy Company called Stonyfield Farms. They signed a contract with Wal Mart and it brought up some interesting topics. Some people considered them hypocrites for signing on with a big box store, but the CEO argued that they were doing more good than harm by offering organic food to people that would never otherwise have it.

So I ask you all, are they hypocrites or are they doing something good? Is it possible for a company to try to make money and be profitable while at the same time doing what is right for people and the environment. My argument is that it is possible to do and be both, but only if consumers demand and buy things that are good for the world. If I am not willing to buy organic earth friendly shoes, then no one will make them. This might be a cynical view but I believe that ALMOST all companies care almost exclusively about the bottom line profits. At the same time I think that MOST companies can be profitable and still be socially responsible.

That leads me to one of my favorite socially responsible companies that I enjoy. Simple shoes make shoes that attempt to be better for the environment. They use organic cotton, hemp, bamboo, recycled rubber, cork, and recycled tires in their products. In addition to being socially responsible, their shoes are cool and comfortable. I don’t consider myself na├»ve in believing that they only make shoes to help the world. They make shoes to make money. However, they have found that there are people that want what they offer so they provide it.

We are a simple family. I have three pairs of Simple shoes. Marisa has two pair and our daughter has two pairs as well. They are comfortable and they are durable. They also look cool in my opinion. I am not trying to get you to buy these shoes. I am just trying to start a discussion about earth friendly companies and if they really exist.

I have hesitated to write this article for a while for a few reasons. First, it doesn’t have a lot to do with Backyard Farming, and second I don’t want to make it look like our blog does commercials. Third, usually when I think a company is socially responsible I end up finding out that it is just an image and they are doing more bad than good. In the end I just really like my Simple shoes and wanted to write about them. What companies do you consider to be environmentally responsible?  What companies do you think portray themselves as such, but fail? Is Simple just pulling the wool or hemp over my eyes?



Sorry to be the wet sock in the comments section; but I truly believe the whole "green" thing is a HUGE marketing scam.

Kristina Seleshanko said...

Companies MUST care about the bottom line or they will soon be out of business - and all their employees looking for work.

It really is up to consumers. What they buy, businesses will provide. And if any of us have a problem with store like Wal-Mart, by all means, we shouldn't shop there. (I can't tell you how many Wal-Mart "haters" I know that actually shop there...regularly. Gotta put your money where your mouth is, as the saying goes.)

Coffee Catholic said...

The ultimate solution would be to move away from big world-wide companies like Wal-Mart (that rely on imports from around the globe) (and thus sweat shops etc.) and back to small, local economies with the mom-and-pop stores, farmers markets, and locally produced "stuff" from small, family-owned businesses and farms.

mike said...

Maybelline, I don't think you are a wet sock. You are saying the same thing that I am wondering. However, evin if it is a marketing ploy, is it possible that it still does some good?

Kristina, you are right we vote every time we make a purchase.

Coffee Catholic, I like the idea of local economies but I do wonder if we move to locally owned businesses, how will it effect our choices and the cost of the products we purchase? Would it be worth it?

marisa said...


Wet socks are allowed, as well as green socks, and striped socks. We don't discriminate.

Anonymous said...

Why do we have to apologize for Capitalism? A market-based economy benefits EVERYone, including the person selling the product. I love the book, The One Minute Millionaire, because it explains that Enlightened Millionaires who care about others, the earth, making money, etc. are GOOD for the world to have around.

Missy said...

I think that sometimes people try to do good and end up doing bad, and sometimes people don't care they are doing something bad and it turns out good. It's one of those philosophic paradoxes that employs academics around the world, and basically, there isn't a solution.

Here's a great example: the US military has, inadvertently, protected hundreds of endangered species in the Pacific. How? They have jungle training centers. The jungle training centers must remain "authentic," so nobody can build on them (except the occasional bunker or hut, etc). Once every couple weeks they release a few dozen enlisted into the jungles and they try to shoot each other with blanks. Otherwise, there is all this prime real estate that is left completely intact.

While living in Okinawa, I came across a post-doc who was researching the environmental impact of US military bases, and was somewhat chagrined at his findings: the bases in Okinawa were actually PRESERVING the endangered species there, including orchids, a super-rare feline, and many rare butterflies and birds.

Of course, the military did not INTEND to do good; they just wanted land for training, and what worked for them also worked for the environment. In science, this is a symbiotic relationship, and this happens in business as well as nature. Sometimes companies make money off a green product without knowing it. I don't expect the maker of the vinegar I use to clean my house knows they are "green", but they are. Other "green" items are just hype, and probably there are some that are actually more destructive than their traditional counterparts.

The offshoot is sometimes doing "good" doesn't: environmental activism in the Amazon actually encouraged ranchers to band together and become more powerful, taking even more land.

The important thing is to do what you can. I have to live like the choices I make for "good" are actually going to bear fruit, and hope the "bad" choices I make inadvertently turn into something good (the "glass-half-full" approach). This allows me to do something hard to do: forgive myself for not making the best choice every time.

Julie said...

The best thing you can do is just buy second-hand. Even if its 'green' when new stuff gets manufactured it still forces older stuff into a landfill.

But still, sometimes you can't buy second-hand and then things like this are great. Toms are even better than simple I think, I like to look at how and where and who is manufacturing the item as well.

marisa said...


You bring up a great point about buying second hand. One of my new years resolutions was to purchase only second hand clothes for myself and my kids this year. It has been super easy for my girls (9 months and 7). The boys (especially my 9 year old) have been really hard to find decent clothes for. I'm excited for the garage sales to start.

Harvest Kitchen Sisters said...

I'm not gonna lie, i have a number of problems with 'organics' at walmart of walmart like chains.

For starters, walmart is a socially and environmentally irresponsible coorporation. They believe in low cost to the consumer but high cost to everything and everyone else that it comes into contact with. Walmart has been criticized heavily for its treatment of employees of the store as well as the (exploitative) treatment of the product producers across the pond.

Walmart also destroys local economies but selling items at prices that no small business could ever contend with.

My fear is that Stonyfields organic will follow a factory farming model, that conventional farmers use, and will therefore be able to produce three times as much product at a lower price thereby destroying the livelihood of family farms that produce organic milk. Co-ops such as Harmony or Organic Meadows which we are lucky to have here in Ontario.

Making organic food cheaper isn't the answer. The answer is paying the true cost of food so that farmers, the environment and the animals can produce their product sustainably.

I'm weary of any corporation terming of the word Organic, there just seems to be too much grey area that they can exploit.


p.s the shoes are just lovely.