Sustainability Reflection

Sustainability: the big picture – what can we do?  What are your thoughts and hopes?

Let’s not be put off by naysayers that it’s just too hard.

A Sunday School Teacher asked her eight eager 10-year-olds if they would give a million dollars to the save the planet. “YES!” they all screamed!  “Would you give $1000?” Again they shouted “YES!” “How about $100?” “Oh, YES we would,” they all agreed. “Would you give just a dollar to the save the planet?” she asked. The boys exclaimed “YES!” just as before, except for Jack.  “Jack,” the teacher said as she noticed the boy clutching his pocket, “why didn’t you say ‘Yes’ this time?” “Well,” he stammered, “I HAVE a dollar.” 

And this is the crux of the matter.

What can we do?  We are just one, we say.  But we can do something.   In the 1990s the global corporation Nike was targeted by campaigners because it had denied responsibility for any unprofessional conduct that may be taking place in its sub-contractor factories.  However, statements made by two woman workers at a Nike plant in Vietnam and reported by CBS in 1996 set in motion a boycott campaign of Nike that was so successful that it has now become an object lesson in how giant corporations can be brought to account by ordinary consumers.
The campaign scored a direct hit on Nike’s bottom line, and because of this the corporation today operates with an openness and transparency that would have been unthinkable thirty years ago. All because the ordinary consumer, just like you or me, reacted and said with their buying power, “No, we will not agree with this.”

By using demonstrations, opinion pieces and campaigns in traditional media and increasingly over social media, and especially by voting with our dollars and boycotting, we as consumers can flex our right to an opinion and sometimes we will get results.

Another couple of examples to encourage:

In 2009 a Honduran factory that supplied Russell Athletic was shut down soon after the workers unionised. The anti-sweatshop movement got on the case, with United Students Against Sweatshops persuading the administrations of more than 90 universities and colleges to suspend their licensing agreements with Russell. This translated to sales losses of sometimes more than $1 million per school. By November Russell agreed to rehire 1200 Honduran workers from the shuttered factory and open a new, unionised factory. The company also pledged not to fight unionisation in its other seven factories in Honduras.

2010 Internet campaign by Greenpeace led Nestlé to change its palm oil supplier. The issue at stake: Some of the palm oil used in some chocolate bars was produced by companies that were cutting down vast expanses of Indonesian rain forest, which destroyed tribal ancestral lands, killed orangutans and other endangered species, and contributed to emissions affecting climate change. By September 2013 Nestle was able to responsibly source 100 percent of its palm oil, two years ahead of its commitment.

In New Zealand, Kathmandu, Kmart and The Warehouse stated in their 2012 annual reports they have stopped working with some suppliers who failed to meet the requirements of each company’s respective ethical-sourcing code. This gives us hope.

We can make a difference – to our families, our communities and the world – by our actions towards sustainability.  Let us not be like Jack in the joke not wanting to give the little we have, be that cash or time or energy, in order to make change. 

Sharon M

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