As Earth Day approaches, we thought we’d highlight corporate sustainability. Not the company’s need to prosper, but how a company can help the environment. In the book, Flourishing: A Frank Conversation About Sustainability, written by John R. Ehrenfeld and Andrew J. Hoffman, they discuss how to create a sustainable world.
Today, both businesses and the business schools that partner with them are shifting their attention to sustainability. The number of firms that create corporate sustainability programs are increasing. These programs include creating green product lines. While it’s great to see that companies are increasing their awareness about the environment, they don’t seem to have the complete understanding of how it works. While providing green products can help lessen the impact that products have on the environment, it doesn’t solve the unsustainability problem.
In the book, Ehrenfeld and Hoffman describe how businesses are missing the real sustainability picture. According to them, when you search words like sustainability, green, or environmentally friendly on a search engine, you will get a lot of hits. You’ll find that companies talk about sustainability strategies and how their products are sustainably and environmentally friendly. However, none of these companies are discussing any type of sustainability that can flourish and help the environment in the true sense of what sustainability is about. Even though the companies have good intentions, they believe the advertising is misleading to consumers for three reasons.
Ehrenfeld describes the “Wrong-Headed Solutions of Corporate Sustainability” by stating, “First, sustainability is a property of the whole system in which the firm is situated and is interconnected to many other nodes: other firms, customers, the natural environment, regulators, banks and so on. What matters to sustainability is the health of that worldly system, not the health of any particular enterprise within it.”
He continues, “Second, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), which has become the measure of how businesses care about people and the environment beyond the usual economic factors, is either oxymoronic or hypocritical. The CSR programs at companies such as Walmart, which have a strategy to grow in the name of efficiency and at the expense of local merchants and suppliers, are inconsistent with the vision of sustainability. Such efforts hold humans (the workers) only as instrumental factors of production. They have become interchangeable commodities.”
He concludes his reasons with, “And third, most of these efforts, notably led by groups such as The World Business Council for Sustainable Development and following the mandate of the Brundtland Commission, are built upon the notion of eco-efficiency as the central organizing principle. It is a central tenet of the economic models used to devise public policy and business strategies. Growth depends on efficiency improvements. But while efficiency drives competition and growth, it is not the right answer for sustainability. Like growth, efficiency cannot be the long-run strategy. There simply isn’t enough Earth to allow for continuous growth in material terms; and certainly not if growth adds to, rather than reduces, inequality. So while eco-efficiency is a very broad concept and efforts in its name are critically important, to call it a sustainability strategy is misleading.”
He doesn’t want you to believe that he is against these companies efforts, because they are important to the environment. He feels these efforts are encouraging and they are truly slowing down the negative effects that we and the products we make and consume are having on the environment. His only concern is that their efforts don’t have anything to do with real sustainability of our environment.
Raising awareness is one of the reasons Earth Day was created. If you do nothing more than make friends, colleagues, and family aware of the increasing harm we’re causing our Earth, you’ve done enough. Awareness is the beginning; from there we can all determine what changes we can make to further help this cause. Visit The Worldwatch Institute at worldwatch.org to find out how you can help spread awareness and what you can do to help.
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