This post evolved into a Feb. 7 piece for Sustainable Brands. But here’s my original post that inspired it.
No more smokes.
Yesterday, drugstore chain CVS announced that it will stop selling tobacco products.
This is a business decision that will inconvenience at best, and aggravate for sure, many of their customers.
It’s a big deal, and here’s why.
(As a side note, I believe that commercially produced tobacco is a faulty product. Unlike sugar or trans-fats or salt, there is no safe dose of it.)
It signals a tide turning towards saying, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.” Even when there doesn’t seem to be a financially sound reason for doing so.
When a business owner says this, it means they are valuing something else more than short-term profits.
It’s saying, “I can’t go on with business practices that are fundamentally incompatible with being a responsible person for my company, my community, and for my customers.”
CVS is making a very carefully calculated decision. And good on them for it.
To back up, let’s remember that Target made a similar decision to stop selling tobacco way back in 1996. (Thanks to Kathrin Winkler for the tip.)
In 1996, Target stopped selling tobacco because it was *too expensive* for their bottom line short term. Target’s tobacco sales were being wiped out by: 1) shoplifting and 2) overhead costs for (inadequate) theft prevention measures.
Today, CVS leadership is saying that it’s taking tobacco off the shelves because it they are valuing long-term results. It’s part of CVS’ strategy to pivot from being a seller of goods (stuff) to a provider of service (health services). Over the long-term, the $2 billion loss in annual sales from tobacco products won’t matter.
In 1986, Target said, “It’s a money decision” because saying “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping,” wouldn’t have flown.
Today, I feel, CVS can say, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping,” for a couple of reasons.
First, it’s happening when more Americans can access and afford more healthcare services.
Second, CVS can count on its allies to quickly broadcast and broaden support for the move through social media. Remember, Twitter’s megaphone didn’t exist in 1986. (President Obama’s office tweeted his endorsement within minutes of the announcement.)
And third, most importantly, I think the CVS leadership team decided that it’s the right thing to do.
I believe that sustainability’s greatest strength has always been that it’s the right thing to do. I’m inspired by Lincoln’s (and Milton’s) call to appeal to our fellow humans’ better angels, rather than their bank balance.
CVS’ announcement moves the ball down field for more business decisions based on social and environmental impacts. It creates new safe “middle ground” to operate from the “morals” argument rather than the “money” business case argument that hampers well-meaning people from doing the right thing.
Sometimes the right thing to do doesn’t look like the best thing to do, money-wise, in the short term.
But when we give things a chance, they have a way of working out.
CVS’ leaders decided to say, “It’s wrong. So we’re stopping.”
Others will follow.