Roger writing the LAWmag
Oct 2007

Environmental Hypocrisy

Promotional jingle on Starbucks' Ethos Water™ bottles:

"Helping children get clean water. For every bottle sold, 5¢ goes towards helping children around the world get clean water".

A hundred miles north of Victoria, British Columbia (Canada) run more clean water rivers than sand dunes in Saudi Arabia. A mere mile in back of Starbucks in Parksville, BC trickles Little Englishmen River, a delight of green, fresh cool glacier water. But in that Starbucks is sold Ethos Water (a company owned by Starbucks), nicely packaged in plastic bottles and truck-driven from California.

Not lost on Starbucks, transportation is the largest carbon dioxide contributor in North America.

The manufacturer or recycling of plastics and the burning of fuel by transportation have not lagged behind in the race to pollute the air and waters of our planet. Nor will the inevitable rendezvous between the empty Ethos bottles in Starbucks garbage bags around the world, and the local landfill sites.

According to Greenpeace: "Around the world 100 million tons of plastic are produced each year and ... 10% of it ends up in the sea."

plastic bottles The law moves like a turtle - slow but methodical; economy of movement. The law scans the horizon like an ancient radar, looking for wrongs that need addressing.

No branch of human activity is more in need of the echo of the law's radar than the for-profit exploitation of the environment. Indeed, the most dire predictions are that if we continue unabated the for-profit rape of our environment, our children's children will not be around to mark these words.

For Starbucks to refer to a world water crisis even while they package and ship Ethos water to their Starbucks in the USA and Canada, where tap water is the envy of the world, strikes a wrong chord.

Shares in Starbucks Corporation, sell for $26. The 2006 Annual Report shows net earnings for the parent company of close to $700-million.

By comparison, to 2010, Ethos says it wants to raise $10-million; a mere fraction of Starbucks' profit.

The issue of environmental band-aid-ing for promotional purposes underscores two legal issues.

The first is one first hallowed by Edward Thurlow, circa 1800:

"Did you ever expect a corporation to have a conscience, when it has no soul to be damned and no body to be kicked?"

Corporations are legally committed to profit; they have no moral compunction. No for-profit corporation can ever sincerely promote a social cause except as a PR gesture.

No CEO would last long if any corporation wandered from an aggressive dividend-producing strategy. That is how good CEOs are measured. Corporations are profit-seeking creatures; nothing less but nothing more.

The second legal issue is the new vogue of for profit environmental "crusaders". This type of lateral marketing, such as the Ethos and Starbucks duo, intentionally leaves the impression that the purchase in Canada of a California water bottle is a wholly good thing for the environment.

At this time, the law takes no position on this type of corporate representation.

For a naive public, in a time of imminent environmental crisis, is it time for the law to step in?

While not within the range of false advertising, should a for-profit corporation be allowed to advertise a product as somehow beneficial in regards to a social cause without a mandatory listing of the carbon footprint and profit of each product?

Ironically, it ought to be the environment that finally pushes the populace and politicians to consider what Edwina Dunn wrote in the Sydney Law Review in 2005:

"In exchange for the great privilege conferred upon corporate groups, which allows them to structure themselves in such a way that they may cause death and injury while avoiding liability, we should demand nothing less than socially responsible behavior, failing which, such privilege ought to be legislated away."

Ought to be legislated away.

Tastes like butter on cheese bread.


  • 2005 Sydney Law Review 27

Posted in Environmental Law

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  • Environmental Hypocrisy