Monday, January 4, 2010

Whole Foods' John Mackey Bucks Company Values, Disputes Global Warming Science

For the past few months, natural produce chain Whole Foods has had a bit of a John Mackey problem.

First, the CEO and former Chairman of the Board (he resigned last month, with a little encouragement from investors) penned an op-ed over the summer attacking healthcare reform that angered many of Whole Foods' customers and shareholders. Not only did the attack spark numerous boycotts of the grocery chain among its politically-conscious shoppers, but it drew the ire of a shareholder group that believed he had allowed his personal politics to pollute his company's image. In calling for his ouster from the board, CtW Investment Group said (per ElephantJournal) that Mackey “attempted to capitalize on the brand reputation of Whole Foods to champion his personal political views but has instead deeply offended a key segment of Whole Foods consumer base.”

Now it seems that Mackey's politics are again threatening the iconic grocer's reputation for social responsibility. In an extensive profile in the New Yorker, Mackey holds forth about his healthcare op-ed fiasco, his sometimes bareknuckled business practices, and... his denial of global warming science. Here's the passage (a discussion of Mackey's current reading list) that will really cause Whole Foodies to blow a gasket:
One of the books on the list was “Heaven and Earth: Global Warming—the Missing Science,” a skeptical take on climate change. Mackey told me that he agrees with the book’s assertion that, as he put it, “no scientific consensus exists” regarding the causes of climate change; he added, with a candor you could call bold or reckless, that it would be a pity to allow “hysteria about global warming” to cause us “to raise taxes and increase regulation, and in turn lower our standard of living and lead to an increase in poverty.” One would imagine that, on this score, many of his customers, to say nothing of most climate scientists, might disagree.
For good measure, Mackey also seems to subscribe to the widely disproven (and wildly irresponsible) belief that global warming will be good for the economy:
He also said, “Historically, prosperity tends to correlate to warmer temperatures.”
Mackey's denial of settled science is especially troubling because it flies so clearly in the face of Whole Foods' corporate values: in addition to "wise environmental practices" (which we take to include listening to environmental scientists), the company's seven-part social responsibility statement includes an interesting passage on education:
We can generate greater appreciation and loyalty from all of our stakeholders by educating them about natural and organic foods, health, nutrition and the environment.
Denying settled science is an interesting education strategy, especially since (according to the New Yorker piece) the key variable in deciding where to put new Whole Foods stores is the number of college graduates within a sixteen-minute drive. Given the passionate response from these savvy customers and shareholders in the wake of his healthcare bombshell, we imagine Mackey's latest extracurricular attempt to re-educate the public in line with his own peculiar worldview might be similarly unpopular.

By the way, do you think Mackey - in another splendid moment of candor - might tell you that it was "hysteria about global warming" when his company's board decided to invest so heavily in wind and solar power that the Environmental Protection Agency listed Whole Foods as its #4 "Green Power Partner"?

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