Rethinking Brand Loyalty

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In Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love (Beacon Press), Fran Hawthorne investigates six businesses that claim a lot of customer devotion—Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe’s, American Apparel, Timberland and Tom’s of Maine—and weighs whether they have the environmental and social credentials to merit it. For Starbucks, even if one can look past the expense of the coffee (over $3 a cup), there’s the issue of waste. It’s estimated that “3 billion Starbucks cups end up in landfills each year.” While they now use recycled sleeves and made energy efficiency strides at businesses where they own the building, Hawthorne asks: “Would it be so hard to keep ceramic mugs under the counter and make it part of the baristas’ routine to ask customers whether they’re staying or going?”

The company with the most coveted branding—Apple—has done a tremendous job of appearing ethical. But, as Hawthorne quotes Climate Counts’ Wood Turner: “It hasn’t been meeting the same bar that other companies in the [electronics] sector were.” Hawthorne takes the company to task for its “obsessive secrecy.” Then there are the factory conditions in Bangladesh, China, and elsewhere, where the company was late to adopt a code of conduct for its factories. When it did in 2005 however, she writes that “True to Apple’s modus operandi, when it finally came out with a product—in this case, a code of conduct—it was arguably the best on the market.” —Kaley Belval and Brita Belli