Sustainability Comes of Age

A couple of articles caught my attention last week. This blog post by Marc Gunther about the pros and cons of reusable shopping bags and this one in the Washington Post about the implications of the success of the Fair Trade movement.

In different ways, both indicate the need for an increasing maturity in our approach to corporate responsibility and sustainability as our programs take root and grow.    Initiatives that appear to be the right thing to do at a small scale, need to be revisited as they scale and the full implications become evident.

Marc identifies inaccuracies in the truisms that are bandied around about plastic bags (the 1 mile island of trash in the Pacific) , but also questions the underlying assumption of whether the  solution of reusable bags is actually more likely to be sustainable than recycling shopping bags.

In the Washington Post article, Simon Clark and Heather Walsh delve into philosophical differences in approach to Fair Trade products.  I read the article as a rift between the founders of the Fair Trade movement on the role of corporations in supporting farmers. Many companies I have written about before Nestle, Starbucks, Kraft, Cadbury  and Wal-Mart are mentioned.

To me, both articles indicate successful programs that have grown so well that broader impacts are becoming evident. Some of these are simply not possible to predict accurately until a program reaches scale. But that shouldn’t stop us trying. The lesson for us CR practitioners should be that when we launch something new, we need to think upfront about the potential outcomes as it scales. “What is this becomes really big ?” is the question we should ask ourselves to test true sustainability.


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