Today we are seeing more often evidence of business ethics being thrown overboard in what can only be described as a myopic pursuit of higher profits regardless of the perception that is left in the mind of the market and general public.
In the case of some corporations’ unquenchable thirst for growth, and their efforts to squeeze every opportunity for profitability, it appears that some companies are increasingly willing to cross lines that put people, property and the environment at risk. Recent corporate behavior in some cases, when objectively considered, is more akin to pillaging than commerce.
Take any one of the examples from numerous recent news stories about the activities of highly-recognized national brands such as Aquafina, Dasani, Arrowhead and Crystal Geyser, who continue to blatantly sell off the critically short amount of remaining natural fresh water resources in the historically drought-stricken state of California.
The plight of the residents of California, both human and wildlife, has become increasingly desperate as they endure their third-driest year on record. Wells and surface water sources have been drying up and pushing local ecosystems to the brink of disaster. According to One Green Planet, an eco-conscious online platform, it has been reported that salmon populations have dropped by over 10%, the deer population has decreased by over 70%, and waterfowl and reptile populations are on the brink of complete decimation.
Industry lobby groups have heated up their offensive efforts in an attempt to legislate protection for their constituents, essentially waging a political war for access to the remaining water sources. For example, the agriculture industry wants river water diverted to maintain crop production, while the fisheries industry wants those same water sources protected to support local fish stock ecosystems.
In the face of all of these challenges, as well as the California Legislature’s publicized steps to impose heavy restrictions which require a 25% reduction in water usage by local residents and businesses, many of the large bottling companies have not blinked.
Willfully ignoring these historic problems for California, millions of gallons of water continue to be pumped from age-old aquifers and springs that these companies do not own, their resistance being “justified” by the demand they’ve created.
Last year, the U.S. consumption of bottled water was estimated to be 10 billion gallons, grossing $12 billion of sales revenue. It should be noted that—strange as it may seem—as much as 45% of that bottled water was nothing more than treated municipal tap water being sold at a premium to unsuspecting clientele.
If one were to question these national brands’ motives, unrestrained greed would be a natural conclusion. It’s a short logical step from there to the characterization that their actions exhibit a malevolent disregard for California’s people and ecosystems. The public’s perception can only be that these companies’ avarice far exceeds any regard they have for goodwill toward California.
In his article of 7 April 1983 titled “Goodwill”, L. Ron Hubbard defines “goodwill” as “…the reputation an organization has with its publics for integrity, good service, prompt bills paying, high quality delivery, friendliness, etc.”
Of course, the aforementioned brands aren’t the only bottlers sourcing water from California, and as we’ll discuss, they aren’t all bad players.
Wal-Mart and Starbucks have similarly come under the same criticism for their water sourcing. As with the majority, Wal-Mart has thus far also rejected the opportunity to make any changes. Instead, Wal-Mart offered the fallacious misdirection that their bottling efforts are insignificant when measured against the larger agricultural consumption required by the California food crop industry.
However, the news is not all bad. Leading by example, and demonstrating an understanding of the benefits of showing community goodwill and social responsibility, Starbucks management made the following announcement:
“Due to the serious drought conditions and necessary water conservation efforts in California, Starbucks is moving the sourcing and manufacturing of Ethos Water out of state. Beginning the first week of May (2015) and over the next six months, Starbucks plans to move production to its Pennsylvania supplier, while simultaneously exploring alternatives to transition to a new source and supplier to serve the company’s West Coast distribution.”
With one blanket statement and a well thought-out strategy showing their concern for the situation in California, Starbucks has managed to avoid public ridicule and has taken the role of the environmentally-friendly corporation, thus positioning themselves above those competitors who are also selling bottled water. Starbucks has managed to expertly extricate themselves from a public relations nightmare and turn it instead into a public relations coup.
Starbucks’ growth history, and the way they adroitly manage their public image, shows not only an understanding of day-to-day business economics, but also a comprehension that goodwill not only affects how people view you in present time, but that it also affects future income.
“The amount of public demand for service and your future income are both largely dependent upon GOODWILL.” —L. Ron Hubbard
In the follow-up article to this one “Goodwill—How and Why to Use It“, we will take up the concept of public relations vis-a-vis goodwill in more detail, and show you how it can be applied in any business—even if it is not faced with such an easy-to-resolve moral dilemma as that of the above-mentioned companies.
1. Wahba, Phil. “Wal-Mart Criticized for Sourcing Bottled Water in Drought-hit California.” Fortune Wal-Mart Criticized for Sourcing Bottled Water in Drought hit California Comments. Fortune, 12 May 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.
2. Kunzia, Rob. “Fake Grass Gains Ground in California amid Concerns about Ongoing Drought.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 23 May 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.
3. Good, Kate. “Millions of Gallons of Water Are Being Pumped Out of California for the Worst Possible Reason.” One Green Planet. One Green Planet, 24 Mar. 2015. Web. 27 July 2015.
4. “Responsibility.” Starbucks Coffee Company. Starbucks Coffee Company, n.d. Web. 27 July 2015.
5. Lurie, Julia. “Your Bottled Water Comes from the Most Drought-ridden Places in the Country.” Mother Jones. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 July 2015.