Criticisms of packaging practices are in no short supply on the Voiz website—many of us see the plastic containers and cardboard boxes that our online orders arrive in as illogically wasteful and in need of immediate rectification. The corporate world’s response? To bombard us with feel-good messages that revolve around how “beneficial” recyclable materials are for the planet. These messages almost sound as if they’re implying that reusing paper and plastic is a be all end all solution to a dying planet. However, are they really doing anything to reshape or overturn cultural values that encourage us to mindlessly consume?
Olive is a lifestyle company founded by Nathan Faust that aims to make the world a more “sustainable” place by eliminating emissions reductions in the transportation and shipping industries. Individuals can use Olive to purchase from thousands of large popular retailers—think Adidas, Urban Outfitters, Free People—who will then automatically consolidate their packaging. Say I ordered a pair of shoes from Adidas and a new skirt from Free People. The retailers would send my items to Olive who would properly recycle and dispose of the packaging it came from. Then, Olive consolidates all of my week’s purchases into a single tote and ships it to me on a weekly basis. If I need to return something, I can use the same Olive tote. Olive claims that this transportation and shipping model helps reduce the heavy emissions that occur during the “last mile” of the delivery process, in between an item’s journey from the warehouse to your doorstep.
While the model of Olive sounds well-intentioned, I have a few questions about how much of a positive impact the company is truly making and the intentions of you, Nathan Faust. For one, I would like to know how you understand sustainability? Is something sustainable purely because of the recyclable materials it is packaged in? Is recycled packaging enough to overlook the amount of energy and water needed to create something? Or the ethicality of the labor that went into it? From what I gather, these things don’t matter in the slightest to you. If you did care, maybe you wouldn’t work with brands like Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, and Free People—brands that we’re quickly losing interest in because we no longer want to purchase products that aren’t designed to last, or support companies that exploit child labor and maintain global inequality.
Now that we’re on the subject, what is the decision making process really like when the heads of Olive sit down and discuss retailer partnerships? Are there BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices at the table? I find it hard to believe that they are, given how many of the brands you work with are behemoth corporations that are notoriously cater to more privileged and narrow audiences. Why not partner with local retailers and companies that support slow production and consumption? Whose values extend beyond caring about a quick buck? I’m guessing it’s because you take a percentage of every sale you make directly from the retailers, and because higher end items give you larger profit margins than their alternatives. But if that’s the case I have to ask, is Olive really about anything more than finding the next deceptive profit machine?
Gen Z is becoming more acutely aware of detecting insincerity in large corporations, and I think you’ll find that it takes a little more than claims about recycled materials to sell us on whether or not something is truly sustainable.