Can we trust companies to solve the problems they cause? | The Tylt

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In January 2019, Microsoft announced that it would be investing $500 million to help reverse the housing affordability crisis in Seattle. Forbes's Samantha Sharf reports:

The efforts are focused on adding to the area's housing stock, so half that amount will be used to provide builders with low-interest loans to construct low-income housing. Another $225 million in lending will subsidize the preservation and construction of middle-income residences. And the remainder will take the form of a philanthropic grant to fight homelessness.

With companies as large as Microsoft and Amazon, having two HQ locations in the same city can have a major impact on a city's economy. In Seattle, Microsoft and Amazon's growth has translated to higher demand for housing, causing prices to go up and pushing long-time residents further out of the city. 

These companies need to invest outside of their own walls in order to truly repair the damage they’ve done to their communities, which is exactly what Microsoft is doing. More organizations should model its example. 

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But some feel that Microsoft's efforts are coming too late–there are some consequences that simply can't be fixed after decades of neglect. Plus, Microsoft's motives are a bit murkier than they appear on the surface. The Guardian's Shaun Scott reports: 

But when you look the Microsoft gift horse in the mouth, certain cavities are visible. For instance, $475m of the funds are not, as is widely assumed, donations. They’re actually market-rate loans that affordable housing providers and government agencies will need to pay back...In a declining stock market ransacked by Trump-induced economic insecurity, where better than an anemic public housing market to buy low and make a buck?
We should thank Microsoft for the aid and wish it the best of luck turning a profit on its foray into philanthropy. But a cash-strapped public in desperate need of relief shouldn’t allow software companies to have the final word.

According to Scott, the public sector does better when it comes to providing basic services like affordable housing. The mere fact that Microsoft's intentions are questionable already derails what good it might do for the community. 

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The moment a company recognizes its residual impact is one to be celebrated. Microsoft's decision to fight the affordable housing crisis is much better than continuing to exist silently within it. Other companies, like Levi-Strauss, are acknowledging their impact and taking action because of it. 

For Levi, this comes down to conserving water while producing jeans. According to its website

In an era of increasing water scarcity, we recognize that water is an essential raw material for agriculture and many industries besides apparel. We must decouple the growth of our business and our water needs if we want to continue leading into the future.

Efforts like these are essential to growing the economy while not ruining the planet or our communities. Companies must act in line with Microsoft and Levi if they want to thrive in the coming decades. 

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Although these efforts should be commended, some of the problems caused by large corporations are simply too powerful to reverse. According to The Guardian's Tess Riley and the Carbon Majors Report, only 100 companies have been the source of more than 70 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions since 1988:

ExxonMobil, Shell, BP and Chevron are identified as among the highest emitting investor-owned companies since 1988. If fossil fuels continue to be extracted at the same rate over the next 28 years as they were between 1988 and 2017, says the report, global average temperatures would be on course to rise by 4C by the end of the century. This is likely to have catastrophic consequences including substantial species extinction and global food scarcity risks.

Catastrophic consequences might also mean deadly weather events, famine, and a huge economic downturn. These types of problems cannot be fixed by mere donations–loans or otherwise. They can only be changed by overhauling our current system and replacing it with new practices, which is not something that many existing companies are likely to propose. 

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