Does big mean bad?

Unless you’re a wolf who’s into eating grandmas and blowing down houses, I’m not entirely convinced that big has to be bad.
Don't be afraid of the big bad wolf!

Okay, before you start with the judgments, allow me to explain what I’m talking about.

We’ve already accepted a number of truisms on this blog; natural, organic, and locally sourced, produced, and purchased products are best for our local economy and best for our health. What I want to explore now are all those options on the B-list. Let’s face it; we don’t always make purchasing decisions altruistically. Sometimes it’s a matter of need. Sometimes it’s a matter of convenience.

At the risk of completely alienating myself and destroying any environmental credibility I might have, I present you with my Big Business confessions. Here are some stores that I shop at regularly (at least once every four months), and here are some reasons why they aren’t conceived and run by the minions of Satan.
Adorable minions.

When Big Business ain’t all bad:

Starbucks (versus Humani-T, Steve-O-Reno’s, JustUs)

Aside from having delicious coffee and offering non-dairy options (unlike another incredibly popular coffee chain), Starbucks attempts to contribute socially and environmentally in a number of positive ways. Their Goals and Progress report is available on the company website and clearly outlines the successes and failures to-date. While they did not reach their goal to reduce energy consumption in stores by 25% by 2010, they have successfully engaged 50,000 young people in community support projects – a goal that was set to be achieved by 2015.

The Gap (versus Frenchy’s, Sally Ann)

Although I love a good second-hand find, I do not have an “off the rack” figure. More often than not, if I’m looking for something specific that needs to fit me well, I go with a sure thing. Luckily, Gap Inc. has been making strides towards social responsibility and transparency. Environmentally, Gap Inc. takes a three pronged approach with an ECO focus on energy conservation, cotton/sustainable design, and output and waste.

Atlantic Superstore (versus the Seaport Farmers’ Market, Historic Farmers’ Market)

It’s close to my house and has a decent organic/gluten-free/dairy-free product selection. ASS gives back through community grants and charities, including Breakfast for Learning. Also, Galen Weston is très hot.

You see? So for those (rare) times that we’re not sticking to the first and best purchasing options, at least we can focus on the potential positive outcomes of our actions. Do your homework. You just might find a bit of silver lining to the big bad business cloud.

6 thoughts on “Does big mean bad?

  1. Good on you for doing this homework, Krista. I usually take the approach that assuming things is just as good. So as you can see, I’m more a part of the problem than anything else.

    The only thing that concerns me with “big” companies (and this may not always be true, but it’s my perception) is that any sort of environmental or social responsibility they do strive for and achieve is done as an afterthought; something to make people feel good about their choice to shop there, even if it’s not the best choice they could be making. Feeling good is pretty great, but I fear that the “spin” these companies put on their environmental and social impact is a little self-serving.

    Having said that, most people (including myself) who shop locally also shop at bigger stores at least on occasion. So rather than living in a little idealistic bubble (which I find myself doing a surprising and troubling amount) it’s better to make informed, if sometimes pragmatic choices.

  2. It’s a constant battle. I find if I’m not doing everything (shopping local/organic, composting/recycling diligently, being an advocate, and so on), I’m not doing anything. Maybe a little compromise isn’t the worst thing.

  3. Gill, do you think Galen Weston gets a lot of fan mail? I know at least a handful of ladies who would gladly bear his children.

    Jan, there are of course still plenty of concerns with shopping from Big Business. I just think it’s practical to assume that we can’t all purchase locally all the time. It just isn’t the most convenient or cost effective option. So I’d rather purchase from companies who are making positive social/environmental contributions than those who aren’t (or who are but less so). It’s safe to say that these efforts are mostly secondary to the primary goal of money making. They’re businesses, after all.

    Frances, I know what you’re saying and it’s difficult to let go of the guilt. It always reminds me that ignorance is bliss. But when I really think about it, I’d rather be informed and make good choices most of the time, with the occasional bad choice indulgence, than be uninformed and continue to perpetuate the problem. We can’t win ’em all, and I think that’s okay, as long as we’re making our best effort.

  4. You’re completely right about staying informed. That information may not change our decisions all the time, but the scary truth will push us in the right direction more often than not. Probably. It’s hard escaping defeatism.

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