business news in context, analysis with attitude

MNB reported last week on a National Public Radio story saying that climate change experts are eyeing the Mata Atlantica rainforest in eastern Brazil as possibly holding one key to the reduction of global warming. As the rainforest has been destroyed, more carbon gets released into the atmosphere, which warms the planet. So, experts are trying to do is give farmers an incentive to save the rainforest, in part by replanting trees there. Preferably cacao trees — the source of chocolate. Studies are being done to see if cacao tree farming actually can have an impact on global warming, which, if successful, could lead to all sorts of environmentally driven financial benefits for the farmers. In other words, eat chocolate – at last, the right chocolate – and you can help save the planet.

I commented: It isn’t hard to imagine that some chocolate companies will be pushing “save the planet chocolate bars” before this whole thing is done. Which is fine by me.

Of course, I suppose there will be some people who will suggest that rainforests are overrated, and who will be skeptical about the whole thing. They’ll say that such moves can’t even move the needle on global warming, which isn’t really a problem anyway, and therefore people shouldn't even bother.

But I’ve always believed in the small gesture, the tiny and almost unnoticed effort that can, when duplicated over and over and over, change the world. So put me down for some of that “save the world chocolate” right now.

One MNB user responded:

OK, so today you reached a level I thought you were incapable of...whining. I can't interpret today's comment that "Of course, I suppose there will be some people who will suggest that rain forests are overrated, and who will be skeptical about the whole thing. They'll say that such moves can't even move the needle on global warming, which isn't really a problem anyway, and therefore people shouldn't even bother." as anything other than whining, and not falling far from the Henny Penny camp. And this after yesterday's admonition to have a full, open, and honest debate.

I have to admit that I am not convinced by the "science" behind the "man caused" global warming that is now the rage. I do agree that the earth (and other planets it seems) are gradually getting warmer, have been doing so for some time, and will continue to do so for some time. Having said that, I am squarely in the camp of being good stewards of our resources, because being good stewards is what we are called to do (I imagine the Jesuits imparted some of this philosophy on you, as well).

I personally think that kind of an approach is much more sustainable (let’s just say I'm not going to be very shocked if the climatologists and meteorologists come back in the not too distant future and revise their forecasts, but being a good steward will never go away) and also more likely to engage folks of a different mindset (as an example, members of Ducks Unlimited and the NRA, most of whom are not liberals, have pretty strong thoughts about habitat conversation, open space conservation, etc.).

To be honest, I am perfectly capable of whining. But I didn’t think that’s what I was doing. I thought I was just anticipating the opposing argument.

Another MNB user wrote:

There are already some chocolate producers who are using sustainability and preservation of the rainforest as part of their core equity. Check out Dagoba chocolate. Part of their value system is maintaining sustainability with respect to ecology as well as creating a positive impact for producers. I have seen some other brands in the organic section for chocolate that make similar claims as part of their brand identification.

Another comment on the estate tax debate, this one from MNB user Alan Burris:

I have been appalled by the lack of moral reasoning in your readers’ comments about the estate tax. If someone has earned money by honest labor, it is their property and their right to give it to others by gift while alive or by gift by will after death. Confiscation from recipients of all or part of gifts is robbery which cannot be justified by communist redistribution, social engineering or envy.

Some who have argued for the estate tax have suggested that to not have one is to widen the gap between the rich and poor in this country. To which one MNB user responds:

Many keep saying the gap between the haves and have nots is widening in the U.S. is widening. Not true! Big study of IRS data over the past 25 years proves just the opposite – 5% of those in the lowest quintile moved to the top quintile! The lower quintiles income growth is at a rate greater than the upper quintiles. In fact there is no real wealthy class; it is constantly rotating with people going in and out of the top quintile.

I’m not familiar with this study, but I would have to dispute the suggestion that there is no “wealthy class” in America. Some of the members may change, but it is clear and distinct and privileged.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that…

Regarding the debate over whether eco-manufacturer Seventh Generation should supply Wal-Mart – while they may both share environmental concerns, there are some real cultural differences between the two companies – one MNB user wrote:

Kevin – come on with Wal-Mart and price pressure on 7th Generation. If 7th Generation has been able to not sell to Wal-Mart and continue to grow their business what makes you think that they would have to knuckle under to price pressure. They get the same price pressure with their current mix of buyers I am sure. As you know, Wal-Mart margins are lower. They do not need better deals than their competitors to sell below their competitor’s prices. I have sold grocery products to Wal-Mart for years and have never been pressured for anything different than every other retailer. They all want more, ALL. In addition, Wal-Mart personnel have always been professional, courteous and punctual whether saying yes or no to a product, which is more than one can say for a large group of buyers out there. We use 7th Generation products at home and anyone who would want to not increase the usage of “greener” products would be doing a disservice to the world. The point of supply is certainly a legitimate and should be the only issue in selling to Wal-Mart or any other customer.

Was I arguing against Seventh Generation selling to Wal-Mart? That wasn't my intention…rather, I was just trying to point out the realities that confront manufacturers that do business with Wal-Mart. I’d be surprised if anyone argued that selling to Wal-Mart isn’t a transformational experience for any business…

MNB user Glen Syvertsen wrote:

How can any company regardless of size become an environmentally and socially responsible retailer if environmentally and socially responsible manufacturers refuse to supply them. If Seventh Generation won't sell to Wal-Mart they are defeating their own purpose assuming their mission is at least in part to get the world to use safe, environmentally sound, recyclable products . With each sale, Seventh Generation benefits the environment. By increasing their sales exponentially, it follows that the environmental benefit would be proportional. If Seventh Generation wants to have any influence on Wal-Mart policy it would be more effective as a partner than an antagonist.

KC's View: