January 21, 2019

Food for Thought

Every time I walked by this Hong Kong style cafe, all the tables were occupied, so, I had never been there before. This chicken & pork over rice was quite yummy. One thing that surprised me is the container; it’s some sort of an “eco” product with a better usability design than the conventional hinged boxes. I didn’t expect it for a 6-dollar Chinese food.

When the businesses that compete for lower prices do the right thing environmentally, the implications are different from when the higher-end businesses do the same. For the latter, doing the right thing is an “investment” to make more money. It’s like renovating an apartment to increase the value of it more than the cost of renovation. To raise the price point of any product, you need to elevate every aspect of it, but it’s worth the investment because the profit margin also increases.

But for the businesses that attract customers with lower prices, using more expensive containers would have no economic benefit. The increase in cost simply means a decrease in their profit. That is, they would have to personally pay to do the right thing.

Or rather, we could say that the businesses at the higher end are not actually doing the right thing; they are simply doing what would increase their profit. In fact, public corporations are legally obligated to serve the financial interest of the shareholders. They can’t do something just because it’s the right thing to do unless the “right” thing also happens to make more money. If no profit is involved, they are obligated to do the wrong thing.

This is where capitalism fails. There is no incentive to do the right thing anywhere on the price spectrum, despite the fact that we see many corporations appear to be doing the “right” thing.

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