A few months ago, I posted about Pepsi promising to stop selling its sugary drinks to kids at school (see The Ethics of Selling Less.) I pointed out that there’s a significant problem for a company that sells a product that, when consumed in moderation, is totally harmless, but which when over-consumed is dangerous. It’s hard to know what counts as success. Moderation is a nice word, but it’s a hard corporate goal.
I’m interested in the general idea, so I’m curious to find examples from other industries. So, my questions:
1) What other products or services are there that we want or need in some quantity, but that, socially, we want to use less of?
Some obvious examples:
- sugary beverages;
- legal advice;
In each case, we need (or want) to have access; but we wish that overal usage were lower. We’re glad the companies supplying these things exist, but we don’t necessarily want maximum consumption of their products. Of course, the reasons are different in different cases. We need gas, but we want reduced consumption because burning gas causes pollution. For healthcare, on the other hand, we want the right amount (rather than the maximum) because we don’t want people to need much healthcare, and we don’t want to provide unnecessary care (and face unnecessary side effects).
Now, the 2nd question:
2) Are there cases in which the providers of those products or services have been successful at acting socially responsible, by finding ways to remain in business while also actively finding ways to reduce sales? Small examples are relatively easy. Good and ethical lawyers, for example, will help their clients find ways to stay out of court (even though going to court is lucrative for lawyers). And there have been programmes launched by various electrical and water utilities to reduce consumption (e.g., by promoting use of energy-efficient appliances or water-efficient shower heads).
Can you think of other cases in which:
a) we’re glad the company exists (or at least neutral about it);
b) it’s bad (socially or individually) if too much of their product is consumed; and
c) the company has made non-trivial efforts to limit sales in some way.