The sinking of an Iranian oil carrier, in the East China Sea, a week after its collision with a Chinese freighter on January 6, left behind an account of 32 dead and more importantly, the fear of a major ecological disaster. As a result, 136,000 tones of hydrocarbons are flowing into the water and could poison this seabed. The results of the ecological damage caused by the misdeeds of mass industrialization and environmental disasters have upset the balance of the earth and pose an increasing threat to our planet. Sustainability is the key to save it. ‘Sustainable development” can be defined as the development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs’. (Brundtland Report, 1987). Businesses ignore the cost of environmental disorders, they only seek to stay profitable. Since the role of the State has been transformed, as Globalization occurred, Multinational corporations have become a key player and influence over the economies. However, an alternative actor to governance can lead in its on way over. Known as an interconnected network of individuals and groups gathered associational relationships and interactions , civil society is at the heart of change. Jack Ma asserts, “Forget about your competitors, just focus on your customers”. He introduces the idea that consumers are the most important feature to take into account to influence businesses. This essay focuses on underlining how more and more civil society and ethical consumption tend to shape corporations in a way they become environmental-friendly. Ethical consumption is based on two main mechanisms. The first one tends to be more of an economic nature by taking the shape of defection. The consumer stops buying a product, boycott, or diverts its consumption over another, more sustainable, brand. This is the process of buycott. (Croutte et al., 2006). The second one is more of a political kind. It consists in “taking the floor” and voicing their discontent. Consumers can therefore express themselves through the signature of petitions, participating in protests, writing complaint letters or sharing opinions with relatives. We can affirm that consumers do influence but more than saying it, concrete examples have shown it.
As can be seen from the case involving the big organization Greenpeace, the oil company shell and the toy manufacturer Lego. Civil society managed to have a real impact on one of the biggest corporation thanks to the voice of an NGO and to the use of petition. The Green group created a video where it denounces the pollution caused in the Arctic by the drilling of Shell. The scenario is all found: the NGO makes a short video using a recent game set recreating a building site in the Arctic, where pack of Lego is drowned under oil. For Greenpeace, the partnership between the Anglo-Dutch company and Lego makes the toy manufacturer complicit in this pollution. Lego had to bow to the success of the video, which now exceeds 6 million views. Faced with the success of the petition, which had more than a million signatures, and the turmoil around the campaign, this advantageous contract is no longer enough. According to the organization, the brand asserts that contract would not be renewed. The NGO and the civil society won. (Vaughan,2014)Even though this campaign lead to a positive step, it brings out the tenacious nature of firms to change the ways they have been used to product economic value and behave in the economic, political and sociological spheres. Another scandal arises in the 2000’s, exposing once again corporations’ failures. Coca Cola, the world largest beverage company has been accused, once again, of unethical practices. This time it occurred in India, in the north of the country. The firm started bottling its production in 2004, and within a year, the community began noticing a fast decline in groundwater levels. Because of overexploitation, the corporation’s practices lead to extreme water shortages (Harney MacDonald, 2006). The company kept extracting the resource, the lack worsened. Facing this, the community reacted and asked for the closure of the branch.
after months of fight, Indian people won their case and obtained the water
offset as well as the closing of the site. The decision
follows a local protest campaign which represents a huge victory and
confirmation that local communities can take on powerful businesses.
social movements generally drive local scandals to a wider scope through media
outreach. In the case of both examples, newspapers did not
hesitate to reveal to the world the hidden side of the multinationals.
“The brand is what connects with consumers.
Done strategically, putting a brand at risk can encourage a conversation”.
According to B. Steel, consumers, threw their actions, protests for example,
have the power to change corporations behaviours. By starting a conversation,
companies can understand what defenders are expecting. Consumers give attention
to issues of corporate responsibility and their will influences on consumption
behaviours and leverage and this, in turning, provides motivation for companies
to be more responsible. (Smith, 1990)
Civil Society has a kind of social control and influence
corporations because consumers are the lifeblood of the business. Companies are
acting to satisfy customers (John Philip Jones – 2003). A good image
is crucial, as it generally influences consumer-purchasing choices.
It seems clear that consumers are
interested in how the things they buy are created. They are therefore driving
social changes that impact the companies when they don’t agree with the
corporation’s practices (Dubuisson-Quellier 2013). As markets are highly competitive, consumers
have a bigger influence.
Even thought we previously proved that
Ethical consumption and civil society influence businesses decisions, there are
some limits to this effectiveness. Sometimes civil society is not the only
element to take into consideration when talking about sustainability. In this
part we examine some other factors that could limit consumer’s control.
though Ethical consumption and civil society have an influence on corporations,
still, they cannot have a total control over them. It is especially true when
regarding the size of the group protesting. A small group will have a smaller
impact nay no one. If the group is fighting for a
cause involving thousands people, it will therefore have a bigger legitimacy and
a more astonishing impact.
we can reverse this idea by claiming that smaller businesses tend to be more
affected by social movements rather than big MNC’s, which are more difficult to
affect. They tend to be the ones that have power on decision-making processes
and can influence more than the market. (OECD,2010 p193)
another problem could arise and this time from the customers themselves;
Promoting sustainability is easier to talk about more than really contributing
by buying ethical, green, products.
their ethical intentions, ethically minded consumers rarely purchase ethical
products”. We can observe an important gap between aiming for responsible
products and actually buying them. ( J. Carrington, 2010 p139). Saying
that is a first step, but buying is a second step harsh to overcome. A lot of
people consider themselves as activists when promoting green products and fair
trade but in fact, saying it hardly impacts the corporations, as actions do not
follow thoughts. Most of the time, this can be explained by the price of
ethical products. Because producing green products implies a total ethical
background, production costs are high as the quality increases.
products/consumption seems to be a notion that applies mainly to developed
economies. Not only a way of thinking, producing green requires special
resources and methods that need at the beginning an important investment. Thus,
emergent countries that try to evolve have different priorities. Southern
economies emphasise growth and development of their economy as well as the well
being of their population, more than sustainability. (Reed 1999,
They obviously call for capital but they also
need knowledge. It is no longer the role of consumers to act it, is now the
responsibility of international organizations and governments to raise
awareness and develop their market responsibility. (OECD, 1968).
the lack of knowledge in developing countries is a fact we all heard about.
However, every consumer isn’t aware about the issues of sustainability. This
has to be linked with the education level, the social background and the
financial status of the person (L. Diaz Anadon,
Other factors have to be taken into account
such as the name of the brand, the quality price ratio or the availability of
the products in store. “Price, quality, convenience, and brand familiarity are
often still the most important factors affecting the buying decision » (P. de Pelsmacker,
2005). Customers want products from companies that share their values. Therefore
the most educated a person is, the more he will tend to buy ethical responsible
product. (J. C. Anderson, J. A. Narus, 1998). According to Littrell and Dickson
(1999), consumers of fair trade and ethical products are more likely to be
demographically similar and to have received a higher education.
just analysed few other factors that influence or limit the expansion of this
idea of going green. Admitting these limitations, solutions and alternatives
are found in order to offset.
“If you make customers unhappy in the physical world,
they might each tell six friends. If you make customers unhappy on the
internet, they can each tell 6,000” – (J. Bezos). World of mouth can appear
harmless and anodyne because it doesn’t have the capacity to reach a large-scale
of people. However posting a comment or a simple opinion on the Internet has
much more power. Indeed, customers’ “investigation” plays a major role in the
buying decision-making process. The future purchaser wants to be sure of his
acquisition, and if all the product’s criteria are fulfilled. Therefore he will
take a lot on the web to get other’s notices on the product. In addition to
that, it provides an even bigger power to the consumer that can choose between
a range of variety, price, quality and have access to ethical products from all
over the world (F. Lehuédé, 2006).
Internet is the new way of being informed. Because Internet doesn’t have
physical limit (C. Ouellet 1998), information and data are available in every
country, offering a wider public, enabling researches and knowledge quickly and
easily. Moreover, new browsers have been created, as an ecological alternative
to Google. Ecosia, Lilo or Ecogine are searching platforms that generate
positive actions such as the plantation of trees for every research done with
the tool. (Ecosia, 2009).
the creation of different shops, kinds of platforms allowing independent
producers to exchange or sites to sell on second hand products give another
chance to “old” (or not) output. The Internet
has rapidly become a vehicle for individual-to-individual sales, for promotion
of small and independent retailers ( Kent May, 2007). More than
being cheaper, this encourages consumers to avoid consumerism and
over-consumption (A. Decrop, 2017). We can cite as example Worldstock.com or
Ebay. Even the biggest brand start offering this service by proving repackaged
than a worldwide network, Internet seems to have the power to promote and help
civil society and ethical consumption’s actions. Nonetheless, small limits
question of accuracy and trustworthiness is often the main problem raised. Are
all the websites reliable? Because it is an open source, people tend to make an
extensive use of it and sometimes information given are incorrect (Kent May,
2007). In 2011, the Edelman global trust barometer elected it as the most
trusted institution. (C. Maclean, 2017). Moreover, promoting is a thing but the
hardest challenge is to fix sustainable actions in people’s daily basis.
This essay confirms that more than promoting
sustainability, civil society-helped by ethical consumption- can shape
businesses’ behaviour. From local to global scale, actors and institutions need
to cooperate simultanuously.
Companies realize that they have a lot to
gain. Many sectors are on the trend and are adapting to demand -especially
tourism offering more and more green activities-. Is it just a trend or are
mentalities adapting to the ecological transition?