The Environmental Impact of Food Delivery in China

400 million. That is the amount of food delivery orders processed each week by China’s leading food delivery platforms ‐ Baidu Waimai,, and Meituan Waimai. Each day, that is over 57 million orders. While economically speaking this may bode well for delivery companies, local restaurants, and food suppliers, environmentally speaking it means something quite different. It is estimated that among each of the three aforementioned companies, more than “65 million food containers, 20 million pairs of disposable chopsticks, and 20 million plastic bags” are consumed every day, with little if any of it being recycled or otherwise sustainably disposed of. It also leads the world in the amount of household waste it generates. According to the World Bank, China generates some 520,000 tons of household waste every day, a large percentage of this waste being from food delivery. This is almost 1/3 more than India, and more than twice that of the United States. Such consumption behavior has not come without consequences. According to Sixth Tone, Food delivery waste is a microcosm of China’s worsening pollution problem. The nation’s cities are besieged by mounting piles of garbage, while the country’s creaking waste management systems struggle to keep up. Cities are growing incapable of controlling the waste their inhabitants produce. In 2016, reports of trash dumping across provincial borders drew widespread public attention. In an effort to cut costs, more than 20,000 tons of waste produced in Shanghai were quietly dumped on Xishan Island in nearby Suzhou, Jiangsu province. Even more serious is the plastic waste dumped directly into the ocean, causing virtually irreparable harm to aquatic ecosystems. According to data published in the journal Science, China is the No. 1 offender, responsible for almost one-third of all oceanic plastic waste. Pollutants ingested by fish are making their way back up the food chain and into humans, leading to increased risks of cancer and birth defects. In 1987, the United Nations published a report titled Our Common Future – also known as the Brundtland Report – from which emerged perhaps the simplest and most enduring definition of the term “sustainable development”: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” Drawing from this definition, the question of consumption takes on a dual meaning. While it is necessary to consume for our own needs, it is likewise necessary to consume in a way that does not lessen the ability for future generations to do the same. In other words, all consumptions decisions, however seemingly small and insignificant, have societal effects, and cannot be made without generating moral consequences. When the question of consumption is viewed in this way, our decision making must be tempered by and oriented toward that which is, at the very least and to the extent possible, not destructive to society. Moreover, as businesses exist and operate in society, and form an integral part of local communities, they have inherent social responsibilities. What they provide to the consumer marketplace is, in turn, what the consumer marketplace has to choose from. Therefore, what they offer and how they offer it matters, not only legally, but also morally. This is basis for what is known as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), the idea that a business has a moral duty to work towards sustainable ends – whatever that might mean or look like for a given firm – so as not to exploit manpower, indiscriminately use up limited resources, or pollute carelessly. ……… ……… ……… What are the moral issues involved in this case? List and explain them. Do you think consumers have a responsibility to choose sustainable or socially oriented brands? Why or why not? What is the role of government regulation in shaping markets for sustainable and socially innovative products and services? Do you think it would be smart for firms to adopt a social dimension into their business strategies? Why or why not? Do they, in fact, have a moral obligation to do so? If you were to advise any of the three major food delivery platforms in addressing their environmental impacts, what would be your recommendations?


Happiness Is Working from Home?

Ctrip, a Shanghai based company, regarded as “a leading travel service provider for hotel accommodation, airline tickets and packaged tours in China,” conducted an experiment to determine what, if any, impact on worker productivity as well as job satisfaction working from home would produce.    There were three results reported from the Ctrip experiment:  First, the performance of the home workers went up dramatically, increasing by 12.2% over the nine-month experiment. This improvement came mainly from an 8.9% increase in the number of minutes they worked during their shifts (the time they were logged in taking calls). This was due to a reduction in breaks and sick-days taken by the home workers. The remaining 3.3% improvement was because home workers were more productive per minute worked, apparently due to the quieter working conditions at home. Second, there were no spillovers on to the rest of the group – interestingly, those remaining in the office had no change in performance. Third, attrition fell sharply among the home workers, dropping by almost 50% versus the control group. Home workers also reported substantially higher work satisfaction and attitudinal survey outcomes.” How to account for that result? The management guru, Peter Drucker, has taught us that an effective manager is one who has learned to remove obstacles to the best performance of his colleagues, both those whom he or she supervises as well as those to whom he or she reports. We could think of the manager’s role in terms of the principle of subsidiarity.  The “subsidium” (or “help” or “assistance”) to be given must enable both subordinates and superiors to do their jobs more effectively.  It must not pre-empt the tasks or responsibilities assigned to either group, nor usurp their proper operations, even when it might seem easier just to “do-it-yourself” rather than help them to achieve the performance level expected of them. An effective manager, Drucker observes, is more like a good teacher than a boss or a military commander. Real leadership empowers others for superior performance, and does not seek to do it all, as if there were anything heroic about being the only one making a contribution. 


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