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Davis, California

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Ethical Wallet: Ethical future

greenburg_opFor many big corporate companies, the use of forced labor, underpaid workers or unhealthy chemicals is an attempt to maximize profits. What if we lived in a world where these types of practices didn’t result in rewards? What if profit only came to those who were patient, worked hard and played fair? We have a ways to go before we reach this dream, but there are some businesses that are already living in the future. Companies like Birkenstock, Eileen Fisher and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream have all had financial success while maintaining ethical practices.

If being environmentally and ethically honest isn’t rewarding enough, it’s also possible to achieve great financial success through sustainable business. Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream is a great example of a successful enterprise that has remained loyal to its original values.

Not only is Ben and Jerry’s Half Baked ice cream delicious, but it also contains brownies sourced straight from Greyston Bakery. Greyston is a B Corp, providing jobs for residents in low-income cities. The company contributes to the many communities it inhabits through grants that allow employees to volunteer where they work. Amazingly enough, they also give back to the environment by advocating for clean energy and petitioning for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They even send back the extra dairy waste from their factories to a methane digester which generates biomass energy to power the very farms where they source their dairy. Pretty impressive, right? As great as this is, what if it wasn’t impressive? What if it was the standard?

Eileen Fisher, a women’s clothing company that aims to inspire simplicity, sustainability and design, falls within this ideal future category. They set a great example for other clothing companies struggling to produce their clothes in the United States. Eileen Fisher is honest about the process of their products and shares their sustainability goals for the future with their customers.

Currently, they are working on transferring to a chlorine-free wool because the chlorine used to treat wool leaves behind toxins that have effects on our health as well as the environment. Eileen Fisher’s website also provides an admirable level of transparency concerning its business network and dealings. Imagine if all companies were to eliminate vague language from their terms, conditions and policies and replace them with honest and detailed facts.

Eileen Fisher follows the international standard called SA8000, a certification encouraging organizations to maintain a decent workplace across all industrial sectors. This certification assures customers that the company is in touch with what is really going on at the factories where their products are made. While 97 percent of garments sold in the U.S. are made abroad, 20 percent of Eileen’s clothes are made in New York and Los Angeles. When working with suppliers outside of the U.S., the company maintains Bluesign certification, remaining true to standards ensuring a safe and environmentally friendly production process.

Another great example of financial success through ethical business is Birkenstock. That’s right, Davis, many of you are supporting a sustainable future via the trendy sandals you wear everyday. Birkenstock was one of the first shoe manufacturers to use a majority of water-soluble and solvent-free adhesives in their shoe production. They, too, discuss the ways in which they have reduced heat energy consumption as well as the ways they still hope to improve. On their website, Birkenstock describes the practices necessary to reduce environmental impact and importantly acknowledges that although it’s a difficult process, it is worth the effort.

Honesty and hard work has done well for all of these companies. Just as we value dependability and health in our friendships, we appreciate the same qualities in the brands that supply us with our daily essentials. A few decades back, these companies wouldn’t have had the resources or the information to create such moral organizations. We are now living in a world where more facts about sustainability are available than ever before. We know about the injustices within our factories, the damage to our planet and the harmful chemicals in our foods.

By voting with your dollar in the right places, you can push companies to strive for a more ethical and sustainable future.  Every day, we get closer to a future where ethical consumption is the norm, and every day you get the chance to help build it. There is no longer an excuse for the business world to play these games, unless we give them one. Don’t give them an excuse.

You can contact Martha Greenburg at mzgreenburg@ucdavis.edu or on Twitter @marthazane94.


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