The goal of this project is to research a company or a product that we admire for their ethics. This can deal with areas such as sustainability, gender equality, or a combination of these. For my company, I decided to look into Legman’s Food Markets, as this is a company that could very easily have both gender and sustainability overlaps in regards to its business practices and philosophy. Here is some initial research I’ve done into the company:
Step 1: Pick a designed product or company you are interested in learning more about. In practice, designers often are asked to analyze the competitive landscape to find design opportunities and competitors (e.g., products, services, organizations).
WEGMANS FOOD MARKET CO.
- 92 stores in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts.
- Ranked by FORTUNE as #4 on “100 Best Companies to Work For”
- CEO Danny Wegman named one of “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics”
- Created the “Work Scholarship Connection” program that provides employment for inner city kids that need work experience and a balanced addition to education.
- Named one of the “Best Companies for Working Mothers” by Working Mothers magazine in the 1990s.
- Champion of Diversity in the workplace award winner.
- Has provided over $100 million in scholarship and tuition coverage.
- Has a scholarship program for employees and children of employees that covers tuition for higher education, beginning in 1984.
Step 2: What kind of ethos does the product or organization have? Why do you think the product or organization uses such rhetoric (e.g., ethos, pathos, logos)? What kind of world does the product or organization create?
Organization Ethos List
On Wegmans “About Us” page, one section talks about making a difference: “Explore the many ways we’ve been giving back to our neighbors and neighborhoods, along with our mission for sustainability.” I think this phrase, along with the efforts they’ve actually made while working towards this goal is very persuasive. They set themselves up as relatable, friendly, and approachable to customers, they are able to position themselves as an attractive company to more than one sector of the community (inclusion), and their sustainable business model promotes financial stability, which helps to secure their future as a company that people want to buy from. On their website, they tackle every possible concern someone can think of that would diminish their credibility as a company. They source sustainably, they create a gender non-biased workplace that is also not age-based or racially discriminatory. Their employees, based on the awards and reviews they’ve received, seem very happy to work in this environment, which in turn promotes happiness in Wegmans customers.
Wegmans creates a world that attempts to be as inclusive as possible; that means hiring a diverse group of employees, offering a wide variety of products, many of which are sustainably sourced, and appealing to a large demographic of customers in terms of wealth, culture, and other factors.
Step 3: Models of sustainability and gender theory. What models do you think the product or organization embody? See according to Nathan Shedroff in “Design is the problem,” and Alaistair Fuad Luke’s “Design Activism,” and gender theories.
Nathan Shedroff states that “sustainability focuses on efficient and effective solutions that are better for society, the environment, and companies… they pay attention to the details of waste and impacts.” I believe Wegmans follows this model of sustainability, as they consider what is best for society and the environment, and how the company can survive and sustain change in order to stay in line with these values.
In the above diagram, I tried to lay out the current gender structure of hierarchy model (cause and effect), and then highlight the features of Wegmans that break this traditional model (in purple). I don’t think it’s by any means the best model to break down this system, but it is a start.
Alaffia Empowerment Project for Maternal Health (related to link above)
- Funds pre and post natal care for women
- Provides training on women’s health issues like nutrition and female genital mutilation
- Part of the Shae butter cooperative
Step 4: Comparative analysis redesign; complete a product comparison and a competitive analysis of the three biggest competitors for Wegmans.
A study of two lotion products carried at Wegmans- Everyday Shea is sustainable in terms of its business model, ingredients, and stance on gender equality progress and other social issues. It is on the Wegmans website, however is very far down the list of Bath and Body products. Wegmans products are at the very top of the website and, while they are sustainable in many ways, they have some distinctions to Everyday Shea products. It’s important to keep in mind that Wegmans carries both products, which indicates that their values do align with those of the Alaffia company, Wegmans just may not implement all of these progressive features to its own personal products. Price per ounce for Everyday Shea is 34 cents, while for Wegmans Organic, it’s 87 cents.
One thing I noticed in the Wegmans products was that their animal testing practices were unknown to organizations like PETA and Leaping Bunny. I could not find any online sources that explained where they sourced their ingredients, their labor, or their facilities for manufacturing. This was slightly troubling to me, however I’m not familiar with typical business practices in this area in terms of confidentiality.
Competitive Analysis Mapping
Step 5: Redesign; how might you improve the product or organization that you studied?
For each of the “practice improvement” areas you identified, explain how the competitors are addressing the issue in a better way. If the competition does not offer ways to improve your assigned company, bring examples of how other industries are addressing the opportunity areas you have identified.
Wegmans is absolutely a leader in charitable and profitable food organizations currently. Their work with United Way, Food-Link, scholarship programs, and other self-initiated actions that deal with hunger, education, and employment are exceptional. They are contributing with both financial and consumable resources. They are stocking more locally produced food each year, in an attempt to re-localize food sources. A link to their achievements in community initiatives and employment excellence awards.
One aspect of their business that I believe could be reworked is their model for manufacturing and selling their own products. A representative of Wegmans mentioned that they are in the process of growing this brand, but they are already selling thousands of their own products. My experience on the website while I was researching one of their own lotion products was that they were quite transparent with ingredients, but were not with how it was developed, where and how it was manufactured, and where they were sourcing their production labor from. I did ask this question to a representative and I was not able to get an answer. They also told me that no one could answer my question, so my guess is that much of that information is confidential. I believe that the Everyday Shea brand model is a much better model that the one that Wegmans is currently working under. I believe it’s excellent that Wegmans carries the Everyday Shea products, but I think they could really benefit from incorporating some of the elements of this brand into their own. For example, sourcing resources and labor of gathering the ingredients to communities in need of economic stimulation. As Wegmans is already so active in charitable aspects of community development, it makes perfect sense for them to have a partnership with a developing area where they receive resources and, in return, provide financial and consumable resources, education programs, and other charitable initiatives.
Another change that Wegmans could benefit from is to consider the practices of zero-waste activist Bea Johnson as a model for what everyone who comes to the grocery store will do by 2030. Encouraging customers to bring their own containers and jars in which they can take home produce, grains, and other goods will save plastic resources for packaging which is currently an enormous source of the waste that consumers put out. This action will also save costs from packaging and could feasibly increase job availability for grocery stores, as more people can now be used to help with preparation and distribution of consumables to the customers. Lowering costs will also open up the potential customers that Wegmans attracts, thus diversifying its targeted demographic and becoming more inclusive.
Reflection for Project
I really enjoyed doing research and collecting information for this project. It was pretty remarkable to see all of the great things that grocery stores across the country are doing for sustainability and gender equality. The first two phases of the project helped me to visualize how various aspects of a business (social impact, environmental impact, and economic impact) come together and influence the business’ overall impact in sustainability.
One of my favorite parts of this project was actually hearing about the different findings and inquiries my classmates were uncovering and making. I honestly had no idea how sustainable, progressive, and forward thinking companies like Patagonia and adidas were up until I was exposed to this collection of information my classmates uncovered. And while many of these companies are doing great things, it became incredibly clear that there was still so much more that needed to be done.
Completing this project has opened up the issue of sustainability for me much more than I expected. Sustainability isn’t just about recycling more or using more environmentally conscious materials, though these two factors absolutely play a crucial role in sustainability. It’s about a radical shift in the behavior and frame of mind of our population. It’s about accepting what we have done to our planet and, instead of concluding that we can’t reverse our impacts for over 10,000 years, we think about the ways in which we can implement gradual but effective change. The issues and responsibilities of sustainability cannot be put on any one sector or person or company; they must be a shared among everyone. We must divulge our knowledge and our practices that are working, help others to shift into better practices that will benefit our planet and our people, and collectively work towards a society that has found innovative and smart ways to do the things we deem important to us but make zero impact on the planet we rely on.
If I were to do this project over again, I probably would have found more tangible and convincing ways to persuade Wegmans to make the changes/developments I see necessary. I really appreciated the way Juan incorporated statistics and measurable ways for Patagonia to become more sustainable. Companies will most likely only change if either it benefits them (immediately or in the foreseeable future) or if a convincing argument can be made that the change already fits into their frame of ethics. I think Juan did a great job at finding tangible ways to allocate more funds for actions that benefit the environment, show progressive and sustainable tactics that do not deteriorate the quality of their brand and products, and convince those with the financial resources and power to see the benefits it will bring the company and the world.
Lastly, I want to reference something that Cameron Tonkinwise brought up in our Cultures class last year. He stated that the future already exists, in fact it is all around us. The problem is that it is not evenly distributed and therefore keeps us from holistically moving forward in a positive and sustainable way. Doing this exploration of a company’s ethics and practices has helped me to realize that many great efforts are happening and, if implemented on a global scale, could radically shrink the negative impact we currently have on our planet. We need people to start seeing these opportunities and connections and to begin to take action.