Does Ethical Consumerism Mean Always Supporting The Local Mom and Pop Store?

For me, the answer is ... sometimes.

Megan MacDonald recently wrote an interesting piece on Starbucks and their attempts at corporate social responsibility. She used to put companies in good or bad quadrants.

But recently, Megan says that she's become more aware of the good works Starbucks is doing, and attempting. She writes:

Starbucks is far from alone in this category - many of today's most successful businesses left the same RIP trail of mom-and-pop shops in their wake.  Like me, I know many people who aren't quite ready to forgive them for it.  The truth is, these are the businesses of today - the major employers, the movers of the most products and those who serve the greatest amounts of people.  It is thus important to both encourage, support and embrace their efforts at responsibility.

Now, personally, I've always had a weird soft spot for Starbucks. For one, many Starbucks pay their employees better than independent coffee houses and offer health benefits to employees who work a certain number of hours per week. Besides, I'm not convinced that Starbucks really does kill mom and pop coffee shops. In fact, many articles suggest that Starbucks actually HELPS independent coffee shops for a variety of reasons. Bryant Simon, a professor at Temple University argues that Starbucks helped to create a coffee culture which benefited independent coffee houses. Thus, while Starbucks increased the supply of coffee houses, they also increased demand. Now, I'm not an expert on coffee culture, but I do notice independent coffee houses everywhere I turn. So I'm hard-pressed to believe that Starbucks has really done much damage to the local mom and pop coffee house (especially compared to say, the independent bookstore which I believe really has suffered.)

Moreover, as a major company, Starbucks has the ability to make a real impact with its environmental practices. For example, Starbucks was the first company to develop a cup made of recycled content, and then it navigated the whole FDA approval process. Because of Starbucks' commitment to recycled content cups, other companies can now take advantage of this technology.

The truth is, Starbucks was once a small coffee shop itself. Knee jerk opposition to major companies isn't necessarily helpful. We shouldn't be against companies becoming successful. And while many companies lose their ethics as the grow more successful, Starbucks has largely stayed the ethical course.

So, this ethical consumer is happy to patronize Starbucks. She's also happy to patronize independent coffee shops. As it turns out, with coffee, you can have both your local mom and pop, and your big green corporation.