Eco-Business: A Big-Brand Takeover of Sustainability

Peter Dauvergne
Jane Lister
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 208
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    McDonald's promises to use only beef, coffee, fish, chicken, and cooking oil obtained from sustainable sources. Coca-Cola promises to achieve water neutrality. Unilever has set a deadline of 2020 to reach 100 percent sustainable agricultural sourcing. Walmart has pledged to become carbon neutral. Today, big-brand companies seem to be making commitments that go beyond the usual "greenwashing" efforts undertaken largely for public relations purposes. In Eco-Business, Peter Dauvergne and Jane Lister examine this new corporate embrace of sustainability, its actual accomplishments, and the consequences for the environment. For many leading-brand companies, these corporate sustainability efforts go deep, reorienting central operations and extending through global supply chains. Yet, as Dauvergne and Lister point out, these companies are doing this not for the good of the planet but for their own profits and market share in a volatile, globalized economy. They are using sustainability as a business tool. Advocacy groups and governments are partnering with these companies, eager to reap the governance potential of eco-business efforts. But Dauvergne and Lister show that the acclaimed eco-efficiencies achieved by big-brand companies limit the potential for finding deeper solutions to pressing environmental problems and reinforce runaway consumption. Eco-business promotes the sustainability of big business, not the sustainability of life on Earth.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-31306-3
    Subjects: Business, Political Science

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. 1 The Politics of “Big-Brand Sustainability”
    (pp. 1-28)

    Zero waste. 100 percent renewable energy. Zero toxics. 100 percent sustainable sourcing. Zero deforestation. These are just some of the grand promises that multinational companies such as Walmart, Nestlé, Nike, McDonald’s, and Coca-Cola are now making as they claim to lead a corporate charge toward “sustainability.” “We’re integrating sustainability principles and practices into everything we do,” Nike tells us boldly.¹

    What is going on? Why are these companies making such promises? Why do they seem to be accelerating their efforts? Is this merely crafty marketing? Are they using feel-good rhetoric to placate governments, activists, and consumers? Some of what we...

  5. 2 The Eco-Business Setting
    (pp. 29-54)

    Why has eco-business become such a valuable and effective strategy for big-box retailers and brand manufacturers since 2005? The mainstreaming of environmentalism and the growing power of retail companies are contributing factors. But it is the combination of these factors with new risks and opportunities in the world economy, this chapter will argue, which is creating a “perfect storm” of conditions. Together they are contributing to a global business setting where pursuing corporate sustainability is of interest not only to a select few firms selling eco-products, but is also increasingly a highly efficient tool for big brands looking for ways...

  6. 3 The Eco-Business Market Advantage
    (pp. 55-82)

    Marks & Spencer claims it is now well on its way to becoming the world’s most sustainable retailer, having already met more than half of its 180 targets, including reducing its energy and water usage, carbon emissions, packaging, chemicals, and waste per unit of production. These claims are front and center in its public relations, but Marks & Spencer also reported savings of more than $110 million in 2011 from corporate sustainability initiatives, up 50 percent from the previous year. Although the gains are small relative to overall profits, Marks & Spencer expects the returns to continue to increase. Big-brand...

  7. 4 Eco-Business Tools of Supply-Chain Power
    (pp. 83-112)

    In 2010, in an unprecedented move, Walmart gave notice to its more than 100,000 major suppliers that within the next five years it would be seeking to cut 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions from its supply chain. The consequence of not “helping out” was plain: risk being switched for a more compliant supplier. Soon after, IBM made a similar announcement, telling its 28,000 “first tier” suppliers in more than 90 countries that within a year they would have to implement a management system to track energy use, greenhouse-gas emissions, waste reduction, and recycling performance. They were also told...

  8. 5 The Supply-Chain Eco-Business of Brand Growth
    (pp. 113-134)

    Business efforts within a company’s own operations are important, but ultimately greater business gains can come from reaching further. Financially successful companies know this and see their supply chains as crucial value chains with the strategic potential to multiply financial returns through better management and cooperation. Yet before about 2005 most multinational corporations were not monitoring or attempting to govern the sustainability performance of their supply chains.

    This was true for the impacts of upstream resource extraction and material processing as well as for downstream consumer use (something traditionally seen as beyond the control of big brands). Much has changed...

  9. 6 Eco-Business Governance
    (pp. 135-162)

    Eco-business is not turning big brands into sustainable companies. Nor will it solve the world’s environmental problems. As corporate executives readily admit, they are in the business of selling more products and are a long way from meeting their “aspirational” goals for sustainability. Walmart is not, in the words of business pundits Aron Cramer and Zachary Karabell, turning into “the unlikely epicenter of sustainable excellence”—at least not in terms of enhancing the ecological integrity of the earth itself. Yet the governance power of these companies to shape production and consumption decisions worldwide is unprecedented and enticing to attempt to...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 163-182)
  11. Further Readings
    (pp. 183-190)
  12. Index
    (pp. 191-194)