Call of the Corporation

From The Editor
Most of us have fallen prey to the green seduction: the bottled drinks, cereals, ice creams, lotions and shampoos that have become the name-brand alternatives to their not-so-sustainable counterparts. Other people drink bottled Nestea, we drink Honest Tea (and then recycle the bottles of course). Some wash their kids’ hair with Johnson & Johnson baby shampoo, we opt for Burt’s Bees. Step into Whole Foods and you’re surrounded by these planet-friendlier alternatives—to such a degree, in fact, that you hardly need to look at ingredient labels, but only price tags: expensive, really expensive and outrageous. Of course, what’s not so obvious is who owns these products and what that means in terms of the companies’ commitments to using the best possible ingredients, treating and paying workers fairly, reducing energy use and waste and all the other things you’ve come to expect of the green brands you support.

The large majority of those little green companies are not so little anymore. Most of them have been snatched up by the likes of Coca-Cola, Kellogg, Colgate-Palmolive, Hershey’s, Kraft Foods and Clorox—the very companies whose products you were likely trying quite diligently to avoid. As this issue’s cover story explains, the mega-corporations that have taken over your favorite green brands—including Stonyfield Farm, Odwalla, Kashi, Burt’s Bees and Tom’s of Maine—typically do so quietly, even secretly, so as not to alienate consumers willing to pay higher premiums for products they can trust.

But does it matter? Does anything really change when a small green company is taken over? Author Christine MacDonald investigates and finds that there are certain concessions many green brands make when they hand over the reins—from less organic and more genetically modified ingredients, to less transparency with customers, to an overall weakened voice for corporate sustainability.

She also finds that some green brands, by setting boundaries early on, are able to “go corporate” without losing their identities. And she finds a few examples of companies that have resisted the siren call of corporate ownership—companies like Nature’s Path and Eden Foods—opting to stay small, independent and fiercely loyal to their customers and their green roots.