Brent Morrison, BSc Psychology Graduate
To be clear, I will be approaching this question from a corporate profitability and long-term growth standpoint. In that vein, I think it is prudent and wise for environmental sustainability to be on the corporate agenda.
Sustainable development lays the ground work for future growth. A solid and responsibly developed foundation is essential for a lasting business. When it comes to the environment, this maxim is no different. For the time being, corporations can offshoot environmental concerns as budgetary “externalities”. That is to say, things they need not pay for because others (i.e. society) will cover the cost. This has been the dominant means of doing business for hundreds of years as our bountiful planetary resources and the biosphere’s seemingly endless capacity to absorb waste made any sustainability concerns a distant afterthought. However, it is obvious that this situation cannot last. Our resources are depleting, our population is growing, and we are becoming ever more aware of the impacts our actions have on the environment.
It is difficult to quantify the monetary value of services rendered by the biosphere, but efforts are being made to do so. It is only a matter of time before sustainability is built into the regulatory framework for all industry. Corporations that recognize this fact and take preemptive steps to neutralize their own environmental impact will be ahead of the curve when these inevitable changes take effect. Companies that start early will have more time to streamline their processes and make their sustainability as efficient and cost-effective as possible. Not only that, but those companies that develop environmentally sustainable techniques of doing their business will be well positioned to lobby government to make the changes they have wrought into law, thus giving them a substantial leg up on their competition who dawdle in the status quo and refuse to embrace the future.
There is no doubt that environmental sustainability is the buzzword of the coming decades. It will become as much a part of the business lexicon as investment, R&D, and growth are now. The writing is on the wall, and those businesses that are quick to recognize it will reap the benefits of their early action. And besides that, it’s up to all of us, corporations and individuals alike, to live better in the world and create a brighter future for the biosphere, and with it, humanity as a whole. To do so is profitable in wallet and spirit. Lead now, or forever play catch-up to those who do.
Alexander Walsh, Environmental Studies Major
A corporation has only one responsibility, and that is its fiduciary obligation to maximize its profits for its shareholders. This means, that environmental sustainability should only be a priority for a corporation if it means a return on the investment. In order to determine if environmental sustainability can be profitable, a corporation must look to see what the market is demanding from their product or service. This brings us to the responsibility of the consumer regarding environmental sustainability.
Consumers ultimately have control over which products and services they choose to purchase. As the general public becomes more environmentally aware, their purchasing habits will change to reflect their desire for environmental sustainability. A perfect example of this is the noticeable rise in green and sustainable products now available to the average consumer. Corporations provide their products and services to fit the needs of the consumer. If a large enough portion of the consumer base demands some level of environmental sustainability in their products, corporations will capitalize on that demand and produce products to fit that need in order to maximize its profits. This ultimately means that the responsibility to make sustainable choices lies with the consumer, not the corporation. Environmentalists often raise the concern that the consumer base values low costs over environmental sustainability, which results in corporations making negative environmental decisions in order to lower costs and maximize profits. It is important to remember that a system is in place to prevent corporations from partaking in environmentally harmful activities. That system is the Law. Government has a responsibility to enact legislation that determines the environmental standards that all corporations must abide by. A corporation that wants to maximize its profits will generally work inside the law, because after all, trouble with the law is bad for business. If a corporations still decides to make harmful environmental decisions even after facing legal punishment, this means that the government has a responsibility to asses those punishments and determine if they are effective, and change them accordingly.
By breaking down the core responsibilities of the consumer, corporation and government, its becomes clear that a corporations only responsibility should be profit maximization. The responsibility of the consumer and government is to set environmental demands and standards that will ultimately steer corporations towards maximizing their profits, well fulfilling the sustainability demands of society.