Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love

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Overview

In this age of social activism, pinpoint marketing, and immediate information, consumers demand everything from the coffee, computer, or toothpaste they buy: an affordable, reliable product manufactured by a company that doesn't pollute, saves energy, treats its workers well, and doesn't hurt animals—oh, and that makes them feel cool when they use it. All companies would love to have that kind of reputation, and a handful seem to have achieved it. But do they deserve their haloes? What does it take to become so ...

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Ethical Chic: The Inside Story of the Companies We Think We Love

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Overview

In this age of social activism, pinpoint marketing, and immediate information, consumers demand everything from the coffee, computer, or toothpaste they buy: an affordable, reliable product manufactured by a company that doesn't pollute, saves energy, treats its workers well, and doesn't hurt animals—oh, and that makes them feel cool when they use it. All companies would love to have that kind of reputation, and a handful seem to have achieved it. But do they deserve their haloes? What does it take to become so admired? Can a company make a profit doing so? And how can consumers avoid being tricked by phony marketing? In Ethical Chic, award-winning author Fran Hawthorne takes her investigative-journalism skills—honed from more than two decades as a business journalist—to analyze six favorites: Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, American Apparel, Timberland, and Tom's of Maine.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Joining the backlash against corporate social responsibility, journalist Hawthorne (Inside the FDA) evaluates six companies (Tom’s of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe’s, and American Apparel) that have built brands around goodness, and asks: “Do they deserve their haloes?” In reviewing the impact of these companies on the environment, treatment of workers, and public service, Hawthorne’s methodology is mainly qualitative, based on interviews with company representatives, union leaders, and staff at various watchdog organizations. One of her biggest criticisms is the price premium some companies can command in the marketplace. Here Hawthorne’s argument is inconsistent, as when she criticizes American Apparel for nearly going bankrupt (“It might seem that a key requirement for a socially responsible company would be... to stay in business”) while also accusing Starbucks of overpricing coffee (“it is socially irresponsible for Starbucks to claim the ethical mantle while pricing out people who can’t afford its wares”). No one expects the author to resolve such conundrums; however, these pronouncements, set alongside attempts to maintain journalistic objectivity, make for a confusing read. Agent: Lauren E. Abramo, Dystel & Goderich Literary Management. (June)
From the Publisher
“Hawthorne's research provides clear, rational insights into our ethical choices, empowering us to be savvy shoppers.”—Kirkus Reviews

Ethical Chic will change the way you see the products lining the supermarket shelves, and even maybe the supermarket itself.” —Michael Blanding, author of The Coke Machine
 
“Highly recommended.”—John Rodzvilla, Library Journal, starred review

“Fran Hawthorne’s illuminating book will delight fans of 'corporate social responsibility'—and enrage its critics. Her descriptions of Apple, for example, at once beloved and much criticized by the CSR crowd, aptly captures the essence of the debate.”—Adam Lashinsky, author of Inside Apple

“In assessing corporate performance on social responsibility, Fran Hawthorne digs beneath the surface of some of America’s most beloved companies. Given the multiple dimensions of sustainability and ethical performance, it can come as no surprise that she finds no company is perfect. But there are differences. Bravo to Ethical Chic for helping to illuminate which companies are on the right track.”—Daniel C. Esty, co-author of Green to Gold

“A very informative look.”—Booklist

Ethical Chic is a lively and engaging look at the environmental, labor, and social practices of six legendary US companies. It’s a must-read for any consumer interested in spending their money in socially conscious ways.”—Sally Greenberg, executive director, National Consumers League
 

Library Journal
Journalist Hawthorne (The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism) analyzes six companies that have a reputation of being hip, ethical, and socially responsible: Tom's of Maine, Timberland, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe's, and American Apparel. Hawthorne draws from interviews as well as corporate reports to present a case study of each company's level of social responsibility and evaluates whether or not they deserve their reputation for being ethically hip. While other titles, most notably Gary Hirshberg's Stirring It Up, Bo Burlingham's Small Giants, and Jeffrey Hollender's What Matters Most, cover similar ground, Hawthorne's inquiry is more comprehensive, examining each company's record on environmental impact, human rights, working conditions, cost of the product to the consumer, and relationship with corporate owners. VERDICT Instead of writing hagiographies of well-known, socially active companies, Hawthorne gives readers an impartial picture of the difficulties of running a profitable company while trying to maintain a positive corporate belief system. This will appeal to the socially conscious consumer interested in how companies struggle to balance their beliefs with practical concerns. Highly recommended.—John Rodzvilla, Emerson Coll., Boston
Kirkus Reviews
Brands popular both for their social currency and image of social responsibility go under journalist Hawthorne's (The Overloaded Liberal: Shopping, Investing, Parenting, and Other Daily Dilemmas in an Age of Political Activism, 2010, etc.) microscope in this exploration of how closely the ethical words match up to corporate actions. In today's consumer world, advertising, publicity and marketing are mostly geared toward drawing customers to the brand, rather than pushing the product. Akin to social media, where people connect via shared interests, today's best-known brands seek to create communities based on shared product appreciation. One of the common elements companies seek to build these communities around is an ethical approach to business. Caretaking of the environment, fair treatment of workers and a focus on "doing the right thing" are as important as the profit margins. Hawthorne turns an optimistic-but-skeptical eye on a half-dozen companies to dig past the marketing hyperbole and explore actual practices. The companies--Apple, Starbucks, Trader Joe's, American Apparel, Timberland and Tom's of Maine--all purport to carry that best-case combination of ethical practices and "cool products." In reality, however, they all make significant concessions in pursuit of growing profits. Hawthorne wisely avoids taking a staunch green-or-not approach, instead taking into account the various complexities and realities of doing business in a world that doesn't always provide the infrastructure necessary to make a purely ethical business decision. The author ably explains the standards by which the industries police themselves and the different layers of whitewash and how they're applied to some egregiously unethical policies. She also acknowledges that a company's ethical practices, while increasingly important to younger consumers, are still far from being make-or-break factors for these entrenched status brands. American Apparel still runs ads designed to titillate; Tom's of Maine is now owned by Colgate. Hawthorne's research provides clear, rational insights into our ethical choices, empowering us to be savvy shoppers.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780807000946
  • Publisher: Beacon
  • Publication date: 6/19/2012
  • Pages: 224
  • Product dimensions: 6.32 (w) x 9.08 (h) x 0.80 (d)

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