The intent of the Equity Petal is to transform the material and product economies to foster true, inclusive manufacturing communities that are just and equitable regardless of an individual’s background, age, class, race, gender or sexual orientation. Equity is a critical aspect of achieving true sustainability. A society— especially a modern, affluent, consumer society—that embraces all sectors of humanity and allows the dignity of equitable access and fair treatment is a society in the best position to make decisions that protect and restore the natural environment that sustains us. This Petal goes well beyond the notion of corporate responsibility; it gives companies the opportunity to be leaders in creating a world that is better for all people, everywhere.
There is a disturbing trend toward “us” versus “them” that inevitably gives way to power dynamics that allow people from certain economic, cultural or racial backgrounds to take disproportionate and oppressive control. Only by acknowledging this inequity and working collaboratively to eliminate it—by dismantling institutionalized systems and entrenched mindsets—can the greatest environmental and social problems be addressed. We must aggressively challenge the notion that factory ownership somehow implies owners can do whatever they like without consequence; this modus operandi often externalizes the negative environmental and health impacts of their actions and imposes it onto others.
In particular, consider these situations: when a polluting factory is situated in close proximity to a low-income neighborhood, the environmental and social burdens of its operation are placed on the vulnerable populations who live nearby. The factory is limiting its neighbors’ rights to clean air, water and soil, and it is likely profiting from this diminishment. Similarly, when a manufacturer knowingly creates a lower cost version of a product with lesser quality to increase profitability, they may be externalizing the negative health impact to their workers and those who use and interact with the product. Furthermore, when a company does business with another enterprise whose business practices are unfair and/or unsafe, all positive effects of a company’s operation are undermined by this negative impact.
We must prioritize the concept of “citizen” above that of “consumer.” The Equity Petal guides the creation of goods via fair manufacturing and business practices as well as true and intentional socially-responsible corporate oversight. It is essential that we recognize the business practices and welfare of the people that we support as we design and build our products, using manufacturing as a proponent for an equitable workforce and community development. JUSTTM, the Institute’s social justice label, provides a publicly accessible online database of organizations with transparent policies and practices that have an official connection to the Equity Petal.24 JUST provides a powerful forum for helping product innovators and manufacturers demonstrate they share the values of a responsible and equitable Living Future.
IDEAL CONDITIONS + CURRENT LIMITATIONS
The Living Product Challenge envisions consumer and industrial goods that allow equitable access and treatment for all people regardless of physical abilities, race, gender, sexual orientation, age or socioeconomic status. Current limitations stem from ingrained cultural resistance to profitable enterprises sharing their wealth; companies doing the right thing for their employees, their communities and the environment; and a corporate-societal structure that systematically places profit over people. The idea that the rights of corporations are equal to or greater than the rights of people needs to be replaced with an ethic that corporations exist to serve all people and not merely their shareholders—that the common good must be safeguarded in the pursuit of the private good. It is necessary to change corporate standards in order to protect the rights of individuals who work for, live near or do business with manufacturing operations. At the same time, companies fortunate enough to realize profits must factor charitable giving into their normal expense budgets to recognize the public benefits they enjoy. A healthy, diverse and equitable community is one that is supported by local enterprise and is organized in a way that protects the health of people and the environment. Ultimately, we champion a future in which product manufacturers are highly profitable and successful, but not at the expense of the environment or any particular population.