What’s in a bargain: environment, equality & economics

Most people like a bargain. Finding an item you want and then finding it on sale makes you feel like you have your ducks in a row and are organized with your finances. I have been thinking more about this definition of a bargain and have decided that it reflects the currently skewed view of commerce because it only takes into account the price, much like the health of a company is primarily determined by the bottom line. 

What happens if the lovely, red cashmere sweater that looks fantastic on me is produced somewhere where workers aren’t compensated fairly, or that uses electricity provided by coal-burning  power stations, which have little or no incentive to run clean, so that if the true social and environmental costs were assigned to my bargain red sweater, I probably couldn’t afford it? In my Green Building Class, the instructor spoke about this concept of the triple bottom line: economics, environment and equality. To be a successful business all three need to be taken into consideration.

Some people say they aren’t spending any more for an item than they have to or can. And there is nothing wrong with that line of reasoning or that limit on the checking account. But if most companies aren’t paying the true costs of producing and then disposing of their goods, then we really aren’t paying the true market value. If a company does choose to adhere to some idea of environmentally-friendly production, why are they punished in the market place for paying the true costs of production?

I am reading this book called, The Ecology of Commerce, by Paul Hawkens and I think he does a much better job of explaining this. Here is a paragraph from chapter 1, which I actually thought was kind of funny.

"…Business, on the other hand, only has two words for profit – gross and net. The extraordinarily complex manner in which a company recovers profit is reduced to a single numerically neat and precise concept. It makes no distinction as to how the profit was made. It does not factor in whether people or places were exploited, resources depleted, communities enhanced, lives lost, or whether the entire executive suite was in such turmoil as to require stress consultants and outplacement services for the victims. In other words, business does not discern whether the profit is one of quality, or mere quantity. "

I actually thought the part about the executive suite was pretty funny. I have only read a couple of chapters of the book but so far I feel like I have found clear statements to support this idea that has been fumbling around in my head. But I don’t know how to put this into practice. I still want the red, cashmere sweater but I would prefer to buy it from a company, which is incorporating these social and market responsible methods of doing business. But I think in order to recognize companies that are operating by this different model, the way the market perceives success and failure needs to change.


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