About two weeks ago, vegans and environmental activists were furious regarding the Blackstone's involvement in the famous Swedish non-dairy milk brand, Oatly. By involvement, we are talking about a $200 million investment. While another $200 million was secured through a green-deal bank loan, many people find it odd that a pretty successful environmentally conscious company like Oatly would take the deal considering Blackstone's history.
For those who have not heard, Blackstone Group is a part-owner of 2 Brazilian firms (Hidrovias do Brazil and Pátria Investimentos), which are directly contributing to the destruction of the Amazon rainforest. Even worse, Blackstone and its subsidiaries business model were pushing out low-income (and middle-income) people from their homes, increasing rent and decreasing social housing availability.
The investment itself actually happened in July, but lately, social media flooded with #OatlyGate and #BoycottOatly after Laura Young or also known as Less Waste Laura, one of the climate activists and speakers, made a post on August 30th with six paragraph-long captions about her disappointment towards Oatly.
Laura wrote in her post, "It's frustrating when our limited choices are made harder by companies making poor investment choices that bring financial gain to people with no environmental or ethical standing in this world. I don't want my money going to the destruction of the planet, and putting people's lives and land at risk just so that I can have a creamy coffee in the morning!"
Speaking about "poor investment choices", Oatly made a statement on their website entitled "Change isn't easy." saying that the decision was "an intense thought process that was nuanced and in line with how we've often thought about change." The method which Oatly uses to increase the awareness of huge companies and firms to be environmentally conscious is by 'attracting' them to invest in the sustainable company and to show them that a sustainable company can also be profitable, which is pretty naive, but worth a shot.
In her following post, Laura also wrote, "Already Blackstone has used Oatly as a publicity stunt - just go and look at their Instagram bio for a start! They are using them for a business gain!" and we can also find the answer on Oatly's statement, "If we ever want to have a chance of reaching the global climate goals of cutting the greenhouse gas emissions by 50% before 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050, we need to speak a language that the capital markets can understand."
Let's take a look at the bigger picture here. We know Oatly is one of the few big companies with fantastic products while also focusing on minimizing and keeping track of their climate footprint. However, many people wonder why oatly would take the investment from a company with a history of Trump PACs and Amazon destruction.
Cited from Green Queen's interview with Ĺsa Ragnar, Oatly's Chief Communication Officer said:
"We chose to partner with Blackstone, the leading player in private equity, because they believe in us and our plant-based mission and because their investment has steered a major stream of capital into our global sustainability efforts. At the same time, their investment in Oatly will set an example and create a ripple effect in the financial community. We have the opportunity to show how companies built around sustainability are not only commercially viable, but also strategic investments for the future."
In the same article posted by Green Queen, one of the founders, Rickard Öste, said:
"Oatly is in the process to go out on the stock market (IPO) in the near future. Blackstone, as well as some other new owners, are investing in Oatly in a so-called "pre IPO" preceding the soon to be expected IPO. Total ownership by these players constitutes a tiny part, and they will have no influence on the vision and mission of Oatly. Obviously, we have no way to decide who is buying the stocks once on [the] market. That is the way the free market economy works. Personally, I think this is to be preferred above being acquired by one of the traditional multinationals, which is the destiny of many new food brands. Likely, those who share our belief in Oatly, its messages, and its market potential will be the buyer of the shares. Hopefully, many of our consumers will then be part-owners of our company! They are VERY WELCOME!"
We all have been trying to make the Earth a better place for a very long time, and this method, which we have not tried before, might actually work. However, to convince global investment capital that a sustainable and environmentally friendly company could bring profit to them, Oatly needs extra effort to make it happen. People have started talking about the Oatly Boycott and moving to another non-dairy milk brand after this controversy. However, many supported Oatly and commented on their latest post:
@mia_ahimsa_v commented: "I've read a lot of anger toward your decision, and I've read your statement about it. Personally, I support your decision. We want corporations to start taking the climate seriously, but their language is profit. Your decision is the kind of wisdom that not only takes Oatly across the globe but also moves global equity firms towards a much greener future. Let's really hope that this becomes a turning point for the betterment of our planet."
So after reading this, would you still drink Oatly or switch to other non-dairy alternatives?
Photo Source: Oatly