They say there’s no point crying over spilt milk, but try telling this to Oatly. Their recent controversial deal with Blackstone has led to them falling out of favour with many loyal fans. So what’s all the fuss about?
We know better than anyone that sustainability is complex. Being a true ethical brand means going against the grain and standing up to use your platform for good. But ethical brands also have difficult decisions to make as they grow as businesses. As they strive to expand green business and offer a more sustainable alternative to the norm, often external investment is the only way these businesses can truly scale. If these businesses didn’t take investment then how can they maximise their positive impact and help create a better world?
The issue here though isn’t with the actual investment, it’s with who this has come from, and their impact on the planet.
Being a sustainable business means ensuring every aspect of your brand is the best version of yourself. Businesses must consider every element from their supply chain to their investors to weigh up their impact.
Oatly needed $400 million in investment in order to continue to grow sustainably and meet the increasing demand for their plant-based product. $200 million of this was secured through a green-deal bank loan where they are bound by terms that state all of their investments need to be in sustainable solutions.
The other $200 million, and what they are currently facing criticism for, came from Blackstone, in exchange for a 10% stake in the company.
Why would a brand such as Oatly, that stand for good, want to align with such a company?
After all, consumers have the spending power. Every time, we as consumers spend money we are casting a vote for the companies and brands that we support. Essentially, putting money into the pocket of that company’s owners, CEOs and stakeholders. So, surely, we as the consumer have the right to be angry. Why, when we want our money to support brands doing good, would we continue to support Oatly, when by default we are then propping up Blackstone (and possibly Trump!)? A company with links to destruction of the very planet that we want to protect.
Is the right thing to do to boycott Oatly and switch to another alt milk? In the words of DMC… it’s tricky. Like many issues within the sustainability sphere, the answer is not so clear cut.
Decisions of this magnitude need to be thought through and evaluated and made on a case-by-case basis with one question in mind, ‘How can we create the biggest positive impact?’.
Oatly, have in the past shown us that they are different, that they are true to their mission of bringing plant-based living into the mainstream and striving for a more sustainable world. So, is it right to question their decisions now?
Yes, they have made a controversial move but when has there ever been great change without great controversy? If Blackstone hadn’t invested that $200 million with Oatly, a brand we know that has sustainability at the heart of their business, where would they have invested it? Perhaps in something a little sour, excuse the pun…
In conversation with PNB, Ishen Paran, general manager at Oatly UK said: “We know some people may see this as unexpected, but it was very purposeful. We’re at a stage where we need to scale up. Scale requires investment and big investment. If we’re able to change mainstream capital into greener projects, we will start to see a new level of change,”.
Blackstone is one of the big boys and although we may not agree with everything they do, if Oatly can show them that they can be successful and profitable in a way that is better for the planet, we hope that this would encourage greater investment in greener projects from both Blackstone and other big investment companies.
Does part of being an ethical and sustainable company mean that we also have a responsibility to teach other companies, perhaps more compromised, that there is another way. We think so. Educating and informing is at the heart of the stories we tell. It is how you create lasting change.
Oatly has made a bold move, but if they can move forward transparently, keeping customers in the loop with the what and why of their actions and successfully show that green investments are both viable and lucrative, then this move has the potential to be instrumental for the future.
So what’s the verdict? Sustainability isn’t black and white and being an ethical business is a catch-22. We know there’s no perfect brand, but ensuring sustainability is at the heart of every business decision is vital. In short, we don’t think it’s as simple as right and wrong, sustainability is riddled with complexity and it often can’t be whittled down to something so reductive.