Worldly Wisdom

The world has always been a physical melting oot. Now it’s virtual. The Internet, computer and cell phone have created a high-speed virtual trade route where millions of people a re remixing and sharing cultures on a global scale.

All that connectivity and consumer power-including a growing global middle class with a desire for material goods and a better life—has multinational retailers ready to globetrot. Despite its cultural diversity and inadequate infrastructure, India is a top destination for the likes of Wal-Mart, Tesco, Marks & Spencer, Mango, Carrefour, Benetton and Metro. McDonald’s, with more than 100 stores serving veggie burgers, invests heavily in building its supply chain; for example, improving the quality of lettuce from local farmers. India’s 300 million middle-class consumers make it worthwhile. However, no retailer can be truly “global” until the world has commonly recognized standards, terms and IT protocols to enable and facilitate value exchange.

Digitally, however, all countries are equal. London, Mexico City, Moscow, Seoul and Tokyo are just as alive with digital commerce as the United States. Asign of the times: Coca-Cola is no longerthe world’s most recognizable brand. That honor belongs to a UO-year-old company with a history of transformation, having morphed from wood-pulp mill, to galoshes manufacturer, to wire-cable maker and now telecommunications giant: Finland’s Nokia.

Greener Global Pastures

Retail has been talking about “green” consumers for years. They now appear to be a viable market. A majority of U.S. homeowners surveyed said energy prices have increased enough to make them change their consumption habits. Add concern about global warming and desire for clean air, water and healthy organic foods, and you have a bona fide long-term societal trend.

For business, going green primarily saves money and helps promote a company’s image as a good corporate citizen. But in the public view, large retailers have the potential to meet their emotional need for a better tomorrow and have a real impact.

The Home Depot is using its stores to tell customers that changing their buying habits can help the environment. Shoppers can see how products are rated according to greenhouse-gas emissions, solvents and organic materials. Marks & Spencer has given itself five years to become fully carbon neutral, limiting environmental impact, enhancing its ethical trading initiatives and educating customers on healthy and green living.

Retailers’ environmental-education initiatives tie into one of the greatest trends of the millennium-consumers’use of the Internet for in form at ion in support of purchasing decisions.

Retail analysts have declared the new measure of success to be the triple bottom line—people, planet and profit. Although strategy consultants may be selling green as a competitive edge, it’s more likely to level out as a table stake. In any case, this could be a moment in history when the interests of business, humanity and the environment actually coincide.

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