Guest Post: Corporations Remember Conservation

by Meghan Rice

Often times, when we think of “corporate social responsibility” (CSR), we think of a company’s dedication to its community: whether it be through fundraising, donations, and volunteer work.  A simple definition of CSR is “simply a way for companies to take responsibility for the social and environmental impacts of their business operations […] an opportunity for companies to demonstrate their good corporate citizenship” (Boyton, 2018). However, when we think of CSR, we think of philanthropy and marathons sponsoring a certain cause. While these are all wonderful, there is one aspect of CSR that seems to have been forgotten until recently.

As mentioned by Boyton (2018), the environment is a factor of concern for CSR. In light of recent events, we’ve started to remember this essential aspect of a company’s responsibility. Large companies have begun to take steps toward conservation and insert themselves into the conversation.  

Corporate giants like Starbucks and The Walt Disney Company have recently taken steps to eliminate the use of straws from their products and services.

For Starbucks, this will eliminate approximately 1 billion straws per year. However, the coffee chain will still offer environmentally-friendly straws for those who prefer or need one (newrepublic.com).

For Disney, this will amount to approximately 175 million straws per year (fox5sandiego.com), in addition to other environmentally-friendly tactics that the company will also be instating within its hotels and resorts in the coming years.

Understandably, there are critics who write off these actions as insignificant in the “bigger picture”, since plastic straws & stirrers only account for about 3% of the plastic found in the ocean (oceanconservancy.org). Nonetheless, it’s still one of the top 10 items picked up at beach cleanups.

I’d also like to argue that those who hold these critiques are truly the ones lacking an understanding of the bigger picture. The bigger picture is yes, straws are not the number one concern in plastic waste, but this elimination of their use is a step in the right direction. Eliminating straws helps us break the habit of relying on single-use plastic and opens a gateway to take further steps toward conservation.

Furthermore, an estimated 71% of seabirds and 30% of turtles have been found with plastics in their stomachs (strawlessocean.org). Straws are small enough for these animals to eat, and therefore will always pose a risk to marine life.

Another critique of eliminating straws is that there is a real concern for people with disabilities. Compostable straws may not be sturdy enough, silicone straws need to be cleaned, and metal straws conduct heat and cold which can be a safety risk (npr.org). In these cases, straws should absolutely be an option until there is a compostable substitute that can meet their needs.

The main idea is that with the exception for these special cases, we do not need to use plastic straws, and taking steps to keep them out of the ocean is an essential step to saving it.

These larger companies are now contributing to the conversation, which creates the much-needed awareness of our actions that hurt the planet. Again, we could argue that companies do this for the positive press. But in the end, whether or not this is a strategic PR move, it helps  inspire other companies to do the same and the movement spreads.

When it comes to conservation, no small step can be overlooked or should be under appreciated. And if everyone could take even just one step, it accumulates to a much larger distance. As Walt Disney said, “Conservation isn’t just the business of a few people. It’s a matter that concerns all of us.

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