Rough Draft: Testing the “CVS Effect” on Microbeads: Could L’Oreal & Unilever Be Bolder?

When consumers hear an end-date of 2017 for the tiny problematic beads, does this tell them that crucial environment and climate actions can wait?

L’Oreal’s (and others’) announcement that they are phasing out the use of microbeads in their skin cleansing products by 2017 is laudable and a good step forward. There’s new scientific research linking the tiny, polystyrene balls to Great Lakes pollution.

Meantime, a new “ban the bead” law is shaping up in the New York state legislature. But like the manufacturers’ phase-outs, it will take years for the ban law, if passed, to go into effect.

But these announcements have me wondering:

*Does a multi-year “phasing out” or ban of this problem ingredient inadvertently send a signal to consumers that there’s time to wait on other important environmental and climate change actions?

*Is this the best that our sustainability and government leaders can do? Could they be doing more, faster?

*Are the full costs of the environmental harm being done to the Great Lakes today, and repair, being priced into these companies’ phase-out plans? If not, why not?

*And if companies do decide to act faster, with some short-term financial hit, will investors and consumers support them for doing the right thing in the long-term?

We could call it the “CVS Effect”—playing off the recent news of the drugstore chain’s decision to no longer sell tobacco in its stores—and the burgeoning “Blackfish Effect” movement sparked by the anti-Seaworld film.

These questions deserve a closer look. Here’s why: the answers will either support—or hinder—important climate action steps finally getting underway by the Obama administration and leading businesses.

These questions come from a place of examining what’s possible for forward looking brands that are already committed to sustainability. It bears repeating that all of these brands already are sustainability leaders in their industries. I’m completely aware of the reality that global manufacturing supply chains can’t be turned off overnight. But when necessity demands it, such as in a case like the 1982 Tylenol poisonings, things can happen very quickly.

It strikes me that change can only happen today. That’s true for any choice we make as individuals, as citizens, and as business owners to protect and restore the environment. So why not start stretching the bounds of what’s possible, sooner, as a better way of doing business?

Forward-looking brands can be leaders in this movement, by taking faster, bolder action that takes natural capital into account, as well as the bottom line.

Our responsibilities in life and business don’t end at the factory wall. That’s where they begin. It’s time for sustainability actions that have global impact to be the norm for leading companies, instead of the exceptional.

It remains to be seen how consumers and investors will respond to CVS’ “no smokes” announcement, and if other retailers will follow their lead. One encouraging trend is the collaboration we’re starting to see among leading brands across industries.

Here’s hoping that the CVS Effect is just getting started.

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