Tensions Between Firm Size and Sustainability Goals: Fair Trade Coffee in the United States
Sustainability marketing trends have typically been led by smaller, more mission-driven firms, but are increasingly attracting larger, more profit-driven firms. Studying the strategies of firms that are moving away from these two poles ( i.e ., mission-driven but larger firms, and profit-driven firms that are more committed to sustainability) may help us to better understand the potential to resolve tensions between firm size and sustainability goals. We used this approach to analyze a case study of the U.S. fair trade coffee industry, employing the methods of data visualization and media content analysis. We identified three firms that account for the highest proportion of U.S. fair trade coffee purchases (Equal Exchange, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters and Starbucks) and analyzed their strategies, including reactions to recent changes in U.S. fair trade standards. We found an inverse relationship between firm size and demonstrated commitment to sustainability ideals, and the two larger firms were much less likely to acknowledge conflicts between size and sustainability in their public discourse. We conclude that similar efforts to increase sustainability marketing for other products and services should be more skeptical of approaches that rely on primarily on the participation of large, profit-driven firms.
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