Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Just Get On With Things

“What I can say is that having Hep C means that I live with a sharp sense of my own mortality, which in many ways makes life more vivid and immediate,” Dame Anita said. “It makes me even more determined to just get on with things.”
~ Anita Roddick, October 23, 1942–September 10, 2007
I wasn't ever necessarily a Body Shop groupie, but I was saddened to hear of Roddick's untimely passing due to a brain hemorrhage (which maybe was only margianlly related to vascular problems from the Hepatitis C).
I think I saw her speak at an afternoon lecture on global business at UCSB in February 1999. I believe she was a part-time resident of Santa Barbara and thus had forged some ties with UCSB, being chosen as a Regents' lecturer and speaking at at least one commencement ceremony.
Basically, I found her business model to be really cool, and an example of how one could be a fabulously wealthy businessperson and still have some scruples. Some dirt was dug up about how maybe her business wasn't as "green" and PETA-approved as she would have liked to claim, but overall, I think she was ahead of the curve in terms of those now-ubiquitous buzzwords and phrases: "sustainability" and "corporate responsibility."
I think about and read about "business" a lot, and I'm interested in the concept of "ethical business." A lot of lefty types I know love to lump "business" into some catchall category that's equated with evil. I find this very facile and immature, and belies a poor grasp of "commerce" as a human universal (yeah, lazy, reactionary thinking is one of my pet peeves).
The concept of "ethical business" however, does bring up for me a huge conundrum — perhaps my most perplexing conundrum; one that is almost insurmountable in my mind. That is: What good does it do to run a business like Anita Roddick's — one that treats employees well, is concerned about procuring sustainable raw materials, committed to minimally detrimental manufacturing techniques, and so forth — if most or much of the money one earns from one's final product comes from the pockets of people working in the same ol' raping, pillaging, robberbaron-type industries and services that one is committed to working against?
I know that part of the answer is: "Well, if you're gonna make millions in cosmetics, isn't it still better to produce warm-fuzzy-hippie eco-cosmetics instead of petrochemical-bunny-blinding cosmetics?" To which the answer is a simple yes, but I find myself going the next step and saying: "Yes, but probably better still to not make cosmetics to sell to the wives of bankers, oil magnates, automakers, arms manufacturers, and stripminers at all. Right, right?!"
Sigh. I don't have the mind of a businessperson. Not. At. All.

I will close with another quote from Dame Anita. May she rest in peace in her deliciously-scented hippie-esque heaven.
“I am still looking for the modern equivalent of those Quakers who ran successful businesses, made money because they offered honest products and treated their people decently . . . This business creed, sadly, seems long forgotten.”

4 comments:

Junk Thief said...

Even if she wasn't quite as green as she professed, at least she was a mega-chain owner who at least attempted to do so. I've been reading Paul Hawken's "Blessed Unrest," and he is another progressive business person with higher ideals.

However, with all of them, a critique is that instead of promoting green products, they should be promoting less consumption in general. There is some critique out there about "greensumption" and people trying to ersae guilt by shopping at Body Shop and owning a Prius without looking at consuming itself.

kusala said...

That's exactly the issue. It's the same rage I feel when I see people buy case after case of 8-oz plastic bottles of water and when I knit my brow they say, "but I RECYCLE." I then pull out the Kalashnikov and say, "Right now I'm going to recycle YOU."

But seriously, this issue ties me up in knots so much that it feels like inertia or total paralysis. I feel like it's a curse to have a predilection to analyze things "holistically" (to use a word that sets my teeth on edge).

copperred said...

I loved Body Shop when I lived in England and was happy to pay for things that didn't irritate my very dry skin. All we can really do is make an effort, and she did, sometimes on the part of others. That's quite a lot.

Recycling plastic bottles would be more efficient if they had a cost attached to them, such as either the Grune Punkt, which requires the manufacturer to take it back or a serious bottle deposit, say $0.25 each. That would probably reduce consumption.

Junk Thief said...

Calm yourself, calm yourself or I'll have to spray you down with a bottle of water. I recycle mine by refilling them with tap water.