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Why Pressuring Big Corporations to Just “Go Green” Falls Short

The current market is trying to hold corporations accountable for their greenhouse emissions and other wastes that are destructive to the environment. Therefore many companies, especially of the large corporate kind, often talk about what they’re doing to reduce their carbon footprint to become more sustainable. As an example here is a statement from the McDonalds website about their climate goals: “Today, McDonald’s becomes the first restaurant company in the world to address global climate change by setting a Science Based Target to significantly reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. When you operate 37,000 restaurants in 120 markets around the world, serving 69 million people each day, every change makes a big difference.”

There is an issue with simply pressuring corporations to make such bold statements to “go green.” Corporations will first look at the most profitable environmentally conscious methods that will make their pockets fatter or at least not affect them at all profitably. Considering that here at the Kaimuki Compost Collective we deal with food waste and other compostable types of waste, the subject of waste metering is a good example of conveniently going green for economic gain.

Capitalist commentary piece from The British Museum

Waste metering is a term coined by the company Compology founded in 2013. What the business does is provide a specialized camera with built in Artificial Intelligence software that detects contaminant trash that doesn’t belong in the dumpster and monitors how full a business’ dumpster is over time. Compology partners with waste consulting companies such as Global Trash Solutions (GTS) that consult companies like McDonald’s that want to save money on their waste disposal systems. GTS has become a more efficient, cost reducing service for companies like McDonalds by using Complogy’s dumpster video camera technology. So far “Global Trash Solutions is delivering $6.2 million in cost savings to their clients, translating to about $1,700 in savings per dumpster per year, or 40-50% in total waste spend reduction.” A reason why this is so is because the video monitoring system identifies contaminant trash that is wrongly disposed of into the business’ dumpster that would ultimately result in a fine. It also saves on pickup costs because the waste disposal trucks will only be contacted to pick up the trash in the dumpster when it is full rather than half full; picking up only full dumpsters results in less trash pickups meaning less money spent on disposal services. It’s also an “environmentally friendly” practice because it is a waste of fuel to run more trips to continually pick half full dumpsters. Compology’s website states McDonalds in Las Vegas saved 31% on their monthly waste collection costs and reduced carbon emissions by 32 metric tons. A video explaining everything discussed above is posted below.

It is certainly a good thing that any carbon emissions were reduced at all and a happy fact that they’re saving money too - but this is no coincidence. As seen in the video McDonalds gladly wears their new waste system as a badge of honor and this would certainly qualify as one of the many initiatives they have taken to combat climate change as they said in their statement. But what’s actually more impressive - a corporation saved 31% as stated earlier or lost 31% in waste collection costs from actions that also benefited the environment? At first thought any kind of savings isn’t so bad, especially when it's from a shareholder perspective. Besides, just because they are a big corporation doesn’t mean they aren’t allowed to save money and profit. After all, they have created so many jobs for people and have shareholders to keep happy and isn't that the point of a corporation anyways - to profit? Considering the state of environmental deterioration and volatility that the earth is currently experiencing, the point of a corporation can no longer be simply to profit. This is not a naive view saying corporations should only take losses - that's not realistic because businesses can't run without profit and profit can still be a motive that can be used sustainably. It just can't be the main motive anymore. The reality is that showing a loss in profit to introduce new, sustainable systems speaks way louder than any savings ever gotten. Of course big corporations are going to implement absolutely anything that will save them money, so an environmentally friendly business practice like waste metering can't be the end game! The world will become a better place when actions are taken for the sake of the people and the environment at the expense of lost profits. This isn’t saying that because corporations are saving money from this program while promoting it as an environmentally friendly practice, they might as well not even do it at all or find a way to make it unprofitable. The point is that corporations should start showing us what they’re doing for people and the environment that ultimately might start pulling down their stock prices and superfluous executive pay. Showing some kind of loss in profits is a good start. There’s a whole lot of things that can be done to reduce emissions that has not and will not be done because it will cut into profits. This isn't all the corporation's fault - the market rewards companies that post higher earnings and continued "growth" so environmentally conscious decisions aren't usually prioritized unless it actually saves them money (hence this article on waste metering). There has to be a complete revision in the minds of investors, corporations, business owners, consumers, and modern capitalist societies in general about what we consider true indicators of growth to actually be. What world would we live in if stock prices soared when companies dumped their profits into preserving threatened wildlife & their environments or cleaning heavily polluted areas, ultimately losing money in the end?

The McDonald’s statement from earlier in this article says that they are committing to a “31% reduction in emissions intensity (per metric ton of food and packaging) across its supply chain by 2030 from 2015 levels.” How many animal species are going to go extinct by 2030? How many more record setting hot summers and natural disasters will occur by 2030? Looking at it that way, a 31% reduction in emissions is not enough and the ones making those decisions - the corporations, investors, and ultimately us - will only realize it when everything finally starts to go underwater. The world should encourage Compology and it’s users like GTS and McDonalds for any kind of sustainable practice they have, however sustainable dumping plastic and french fry grease into a landfill can be. But they shouldn’t be commended or suddenly morally righteous for becoming more profitable by doing something they should have been doing from the start - that something being conscious of the marks they make on this beautiful planet.

We believe that our business model here at the Kaimuki Compost Collective represents the kind of initiative that big corporations and everyday people need to take. Our service charges a monthly fee to pick up residential and commercial food waste; this waste is promptly converted to compost that is given back to local gardeners and farmers. This prevents the creation of the greenhouse gas methane that food waste gives off when it's discarded in a landfill and makes use of the waste to make compost that promotes soil and plant health. For a small fee we can help every household and business reduce their impact on the planet - even if it's just by a bit.

Leave a comment or send us an email on your thoughts about this and give us an example of big corporations taking some big losses for the sake of mother earth!

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