But I have a few questions first
Dear Samantha Suppiah,
Thank you for providing the opportunity to experience a “Plantation Sustainability Starter Pack”. This is exactly what the world has been waiting for! And since I am (I think?) in the world, I have been waiting in that line up with everyone else, patiently hoping something like the starter pack would appear so we could make headway on sustainable plantations in our corporate supply chains.
Honestly, it’s amazing that you have been able to bring this to market so soon. This bodes well for those companies, like the one where I work, with 2030 goals. And imagine how ahead of the game the 2050 goal crowd can be if they take this on board!
For context, I work for #naturefuture*, a company that sells a range of everyday products to the kinds of global customers in America and Europe (and some more affluent people in Brazil, South Africa and other countries) (oh also South Korea) who wish to nourish mind, body and soul. I am new to the company but their on-boarding process was great: it really emphasized their commitment to being a force for positive change, which is what prompted me to get in touch with you now.
My role at #naturefuture is a work-in-progress but they essentially hired me to — I’m quoting the recruitment agency here — “implement a strategic, cross-functional sustainability strategy that takes into consideration our stakeholders’ needs.” Along with offering them guidance on basic spelling and grammar (since I find the whole “proper name starting with a non-letter and then a lower case letter” thing seriously problematic) I hope to bring a sense of enthusiasm and purpose to the executive-led Sustainability Steering Committee (SSC), including the one board member to assigned to this portfolio who also sits on the SSC. (You can pronounce that the “s-see” if you want, like “see” with a stutter. That’s how I say it, anyway.)
I was wondering though, if I could ask you some questions that you could maybe answer when you send the full pack and instructions along? I noticed that your starter pack company pays close attention to quality and detail so I feel confident that you will be able to help me with these questions.
So first, I am of European descent, born, bred and—most importantly—educated in the system that incentivizes systemic collapse through overconsumption of meaningless crap, and then also profits from the mechanisms we use to cope with the resulting dysfunctions (diseases, addictions etc). Also, I have never been to Southeast Asia but I think it sounds like an important place where my company could fix things. Now that you have this background info on me, I wanted to double-check: do you think I am a good fit for the starter pack?
Another question I had is: when I look across the sector at my peers, I feel a mix of inspiration and existential dread. I’m wondering if your starter pack helps to address this paradox, and if so, if you recommend a particular pace or cadence to applying the steps outlined? For instance, I was excited to benchmark #naturefuture* against Unilever because they are touted as leaders in this area and their purpose is “to make sustainable living commonplace.” And Unilever sure does share a lot of words about raising living standards, which feels key to eliminating child labour, a key theme in your starter pack. This seems really important to them because, as they put it, “millions of people depend on Unilever to make a living.”
But the thing is, when I look at what they sell (and if I’m honest, it reminds me a lot of what #naturefuture* sells…) I can’t find a product that makes life better in the long run. It’s like they’re saying that without processed “food”, chemical “cleaning” products, and more chemical “beauty” products, both the consumer’s life and these workers’ lives wouldn’t be worth living. But this isn’t true, no offense to mass-produced ice cream and deodorant. For extra existential angst, these products are sold in single-use packaging that becomes a whole ’nother problem that someone has to deal with — maybe them, but according to most ocean-going species and our own lungs rife with residual plastic nano-particles, actually no one is really dealing with it. (Which reminds me, do you have a starter pack for Plastic Waste Sustainability, too? I hope so.) So any guidance about the order of the starter pack steps, or just a bit of hand-holding on navigating the, “what I don’t know I don’t know” — you know? — that would be great.
Which leads me to my next question: Does your starter pack help me work with my executives and the one board member (who is really nice, by the way; she used to head up a big NGO so she really gets this stuff) on the SSC, to show the connection between our business model and the reason there are mono-crop plantations with child labour and vanishing biodiversity in the first place? I was thinking I could combine your starter pack ideas with some of my other work from my art project, Matereality, at our next internal team-wide sustainability workshop. That way, when we repeat ourselves with similar content to what the previous person who was in this role (who moved over to Compliance instead of taking the promotion my role would have been—no hard feelings, I don’t think?) presented we can at least include some new material. What do you think?
And finally, I know the starter pack is valuable — priceless really — but I still thought I would ask: can I get a discount? I’m trying to save up for an eco-vacation in Costa Rica. I’ve been pretty stressed out with the workload of my new role so I’m planning my next vacation, but those trips have gotten really expensive lately. Have you seen how much flights are? It’s crazy. So, every little bit helps right now. Thanks for considering my request.
As you can probably tell, I’m excited to put this starter pack to work. I can already feel my own anxiety easing, like a kind of expansiveness in my chest. And when I meditate and go into that “mindful” state (that’s so funny, I just typo’ed “mindless” there…!) (no, I seriously did) I can totally feel my connectedness to those poor overworked and underpaid children in the plantations in Southeast Asia where those monkeys lost their habitat and died and everything. I feel privileged to be able to help, personally, and more professionally speaking, I know that #naturefuture* is keen to lean into this agenda in a big way.
Thanks in advance for your thoughts on my questions, above, and for all you’re doing for those of us working to move corporate sustainability forward to make a real difference!
Lorraine Smith Director, Sustainable Supply Chains #naturefuture*
PS For Hallowe’en in the 1970s we used to collect money for UNICEF (and candy, too of course, made by those companies that are now doing so much to help out in those plantations — it’s all coming full circle!). Anyway, I feel good about how much I was able to contribute to the effort, even as a small child with no idea that children my own age were maybe even picking the cacao destined for my favourite chocolate bar, Malted Milk.
Mind you that was a long time ago so maybe child labour wasn’t as bad then as it is now? It’s confusing. Anyway I’m glad you’ve put this pack together. It brings back fond childhood memories and helps me at my new job. Keep us posted about the starter pack for Plastic Waste, okay? Thanks!
* #naturefuture is either a company that doesn’t exist, or it is the company we all work for, depending on how we choose to see it (and I totally understand if you are frustrated by this sentence starting with a lowercase letter after a non-letter—I feel ya!).
This post originally appeared on my Medium page in May 2022.