Wavy Gravy

http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/04/12/opinion/12fixesimg/12fixesimg-blog427.jpgIt hadn't been long after I was doing some work with Ben & Jerry's when the famously do-gooding ice cream company was bought up by multinational conglomerate Unilever.  I recall some hand-wringing about whether Ben & Jerry's social bent would translate within a huge, publicly traded corporate behemoth. 

There's room for disagreement, but it seems that where Ben & Jerry's ended up has been a pretty good fit. 

Earlier this month, The Economist had a nice piece on how Unilever is once again pushing the envelope on what it means to be a socially virtuous profit-making enterprise.  I particularly appreciated the explorations into carbon footprint and the realizations that a lot of the impact comes before and after the firm's touch.

On the front end, Unilever's supply chain, which represents everything from other big firms to the tiniest of farms, generates a big chunk of the greenhouse gases associated with Unilever's products.  So, the firm has invested in easy energy-saving schemes like drip irrigation, lowering emissions and wringing costs out of their own supply chain.

On the back end, Unilever's customers represent the biggest chunk of greenhouse gas emissions in their use of Unilever products: think heating up water for tea or cranking up the shower to suds up your hair.  Again, Unilever is going outside its walls to reduce its enviro impact, such as by conjuring up shampoos that don't require water. 

This to me is enlightened capitalism.  Too often people smear capitalists for not caring what happens before and after they touch a product, and too often they're right.  Unilever realizes that what happens before and after matters, not only for the environment but for their bottom line, their reputation, and their customer's happiness.  Ben and Jerry both could do worse than to have corporate parents that think that way. 
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