05 May 2008

The Next Big Thing

The up-and-coming topic of business philosophy is sustainability. In the field of Ethics, the relevant discussion is centered around environmental sustainability. Today's general acceptance that "we are in an environmental crisis" (Ethical Theory and Business, 512) is heavily derived from the findings of scientists who have charted the rapid decline of the Earth's available natural resources. An amplification of these findings has been provided through media channels such as Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and Leonardo DiCaprio's The 11th Hour. The impact of human activity on the state of our environment is great, and as IMDb.com's Chris Knipp has stated, "sure, we can 'vote' by buying low-watt bulbs and recycling and reducing our individual 'carbon footprints'...but to act collectively, we'll need that so-far-missing leadership...where is it going to come from?"

It is the view of several ethical theorists that the leadership of enacting environmentally responsible measures should be squarely placed on Business. Denis Arnold and Keith Bustos focus their article Business, Ethics, and Global Climate Change on greenhouse gas emissions and recommend public policy to "restrain those businesses that have not taken responsibility for their emissions" (Ethical Theory 514). While this sets the standard for a responsible business-sphere, I believe it will take extended voluntary measures for Business to really take ownership of the leading edge.

Norman Bowie makes the simple argument that "business has a moral as well as legal obligation to obey all environmental laws" (513). Beyond obedience to law, which is an idea that only applies within the borders of participating countries, Bowie advocates that "businesses have an obligation to utilize their considerable expertise regarding the causes of environmental harm to educate consumers about best practices regarding environmental protection" (514). His intent is that through environmental sustainability education, consumer-demand will develop and then drive business to fulfill the desire for a market of responsible products (and production processes).

It is also noted that there are existing business practices in place which proactively address the environmental issue, and do it quite profitably. Joseph DesJardins believes in whole models of sustainable business practices which "include environmentally sustainable practices that are also profitable" (514). A recent research study by Rochester Institute of Technology's Dr. Clyde EirĂ­kur Hull and Dr. Sandra Rothenberg, Firm Performance: The Interactions of Corporate Social Performance with Innovation and Industry Differentiation, shows results which indicate that at the very least being socially responsible (including environmental responsibility) causes no harm to a business--and in fact can even prove to serve as a sustainable competitive advantage in itself for firms in industries with low differentiation of products/services.

Drawing on the viewpoints of the aforementioned theorists, concluding with the study by Drs. Hull and Rothenberg, it seems that Business SHOULD be burdened with the responsibility of taking the leading edge of environmental sustainability and that while policy should dictate the minimum standards, it is the voluntary initiatives above-and-beyond legal policy which will propel positive steps toward a sustainable future.


Post a Comment