Letting go: Corporate dominance gives rise to responsibility

Corporate Social Responsibility enthusiasts often struggle to balance the indiscretions of a company's past with their current attempts at good works.  While die-hard anti-corporate activists will likely never recognize the authenticity behind big-box retailers interested in "greening" themselves, there are more and more whose progress in the responsibility arena deserves recognition.  Starbucks is a great example, though I still cringe when I recognize this fact given their history of running small businesses out of town in their meteoric rise to java stardom.

For a long time I put companies into very black and white "good" or "bad" quadrants in my head.  Starbucks was bad because we'd all watched as they dominated blocks and in a fit of branding genius introduced the coffee "drink" that led to booming business and many a small local coffee shop shutting down.  But as the years went by and their drinks became more impossible to ignore or avoid, I began to see signs in their shops I didn't see in other establishments.  From the informational displays and selling of Ethos Water to bulletin boards with pictures of baristas doing international service projects, the company was clearly focused on cultivating a responsible image.  Still, the pessimist in me held out that it was just that - further gimmicky branding and not enough compensation for the businesses they impacted in the earliest days.

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.  Starbucks has recently launched 3 pilot stores of fantastic innovation in regards to sourcing locally, community collaboration and renewable energy.  Their partnership with GE to develop a customized lighting system represents the best of private innovation and partnership resulting in new technology and alternatives.  And these aren't meant to be single shops of green stardom - they are intended to set the course for operations and building as a whole throughout the company and for future growth.

A Starbucks is a hub of activity and the more opportunities a space like that takes to cater to the environment and in any way publicize responsible business, building and energy practices, the better.  So, after years of holding a grudge (though I did eventually start partaking in their frappuccinos) I am ready to focus my attention more on the good they're doing now, than the bad they did to get here.  I cringe as I write those words, but I know it's the right thing to do for the sake of better business as a whole both now and in the future.