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2.6 Environmentalism

Learning Objective

  1. Identify threats to the natural environment and explain how businesses are addressing them.

Today, virtually everyone agrees that companies must figure out how to produce products without compromising the right of future generations to meet their own needs. Clearly, protecting natural resources is the right thing to do, but it also has become a business necessity. Companies’ customers demand that they respect the environment. Let’s identify some key environmental issues and highlight the ways in which the business community has addressed them.

Land Pollution

The land we live on has been polluted by the dumping of waste and increasing reliance on agricultural chemicals. It’s pockmarked by landfills stuffed with the excess of a throwaway society. It’s been strip-mined and deforested, and urban sprawl on every continent has squeezed out wetlands and farmlands and destroyed wildlife habitats.

Protecting the land from further damage, then, means disposing of waste in responsible ways (or, better yet, reducing the amount of waste). At both national and global levels, we must resolve the conflicts of interest between those who benefit economically from logging and mining and those who argue that protecting the environment is an urgent matter. Probably municipalities must step in to save open spaces and wetlands.

Figure 2.13

Did you know your cozy fleece jacket is most likely made from recycled plastic bottles?

Clothing manufacturer Patagonia has for years been in the forefront of efforts to protect the land. Each year, the company pledges either 1 percent of sales revenue or 10 percent of profits (whichever is larger) to protect and restore the natural environment. According to its “Statement of Purpose,” “Patagonia exists as a business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis.” Instead of traditional materials for making clothes (such as regular cotton and fleece), Patagonia relies on organically grown cotton, which is more expensive, because it doesn’t requires harmful chemicals. Its fleece products are made with postconsumer recycled (PCR) fleece, which is actually made with recycled plastic bottles. So far, the company’s efforts to build a more sustainable system has saved 86 million plastic bottles from ending up in landfills.Patagonia, “Environmental Action,” http://www.patagonia.com/enviro/main_enviro_action.shtml (accessed April 24, 2006).

Air Pollution

It’s amazing what we can do to something as large as the atmosphere. Over time, we’ve managed to pollute the air with emissions of toxic gases and particles from factories, power plants, office buildings, cars, trucks, and even farms. In addition, our preferred method of deforestation is burning, a major source of air pollution. In some places, polluted air causes respiratory problems, particularly for the young and elderly. Factory emissions, including sulfur and other gases, mix with air and rain to produce acid rain, which returns to the earth to pollute forests, lakes, and streams. Perhaps most importantly, many experts—scientists, government officials, and businesspeople—are convinced that the heavy emission of carbon dioxide is altering the earth’s climate. Predictions of the effect of unchecked global warming include extreme weather conditions, flooding, oceanic disruptions, shifting storm patterns, droughts, reduced farm output, and even animal extinctions.John Carey, “Global Warming,” Business Week, August 16, 2004, 64.

Curbing global warming will require international cooperation. More than 120 nations (though not the United States) have stated their support for this initiative by endorsing the Kyoto Protocol, an agreement to slow global warming by reducing worldwide carbon-dioxide emissions.

What can business do? They can reduce greenhouse emissions by making vehicles, factories, and other facilities more energy efficient. In response to a government ban on chlorofluorocarbons, which damage the ozone layer, DuPont has cut its own greenhouse emissions by 65 percent over the last fifteen years through improvements in manufacturing processes and a commitment to increased energy efficiency.John Carey, “Global Warming,” Business Week, August 16, 2004, 60. Several U.S. and Japanese car manufacturers now market hybrid gas-electric cars, and General Motors is working on a plug-in electric vehicle. General Electric is designing more energy-efficient appliances and investing heavily to research wind power.John Carey, “Global Warming,” Business Week, August 16, 2004, 64.

Water Pollution

Water makes up more than 70 percent of the earth’s surface, and it’s no secret that without it we wouldn’t be here. Unfortunately, that knowledge doesn’t stop us from polluting our oceans, rivers, and lakes and generally making our water unfit for use. Massive pollution occurs when such substances as oil and chemicals are dumped into bodies of water. The damage to the water, to the marine ecosystem, and to coastal wildlife from the accidental spilling of oil from supertankers and offshore drilling operations can be disastrous, and the cleanup can cost billions. Most contaminants, however, come from agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, wastewater, raw sewage, and silt that make their way into water systems over time.David Krantz and Brad Kifferstein, “Water Pollution and Society,” University of Michigan,http://www.umich.edu/~gs265/society/waterpollution.htm (accessed April 24, 2006). In some parts of the world—including certain areas in this country—water supplies are dwindling, partly because of diminishing rainfall and partly because of increased consumption.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been a major force in cleaning up U.S. waters. Companies are now held to stricter standards in the discharge of wastes into water treatment systems. In some places, particularly where water supplies are dangerously low, such as the Southwest, local governments have instituted conservation programs. In Arizona (which suffers a severe shortage), Home Depot works with governmental and nongovernmental agencies on a $1.8 million water-conservation campaign. From its forty stores, the company runs weekend workshops to educate consumers on conservation basics, including drought-resistant gardening techniques.Philip Kotler and Nancy Lee, “Best of Breed,” Stanford Social Innovation Review, Spring 2004, 20.

Key Takeaways

  • Companies bear a responsibility to produce products without compromising the right of future generations to meet their needs.
  • Customers demand that companies respect the environment. Our land, air, and water all face environmental threats.
  • Land is polluted by the dumping of waste and an increasing reliance on agricultural chemicals. It’s pockmarked by landfills, shredded by strip mining, and laid bare by deforestation.
  • Urban sprawl has squeezed out wetlands and farmlands and destroyed wildlife habitats.
  • To protect the land from further damage, we must dispose of waste in responsible ways, control strip mining and logging, and save open spaces and wetlands.
  • Emissions of toxic gases and particles from factories, power plants, office buildings, cars, trucks, and even farms pollute the air, which is also harmed by the burning associated with deforestation.
  • Many experts believe that the heavy emission of carbon dioxide by factories and vehicles is altering the earth’s climate: carbon dioxide and other gases, they argue, act as a “greenhouse” over the earth, producing global warming—a heating of the earth that could have dire consequences. Many companies have taken actions to reduce air pollution.
  • Water is polluted by such substances as oil and chemicals. Most of the contaminants come from agricultural fertilizers, pesticides, wastewater, raw sewage, and silt.
  • Also of concern is the dwindling supply of water in some parts of the world brought about by diminishing rainfall and increased consumption.
  • The Environmental Protection Agency has been a major force in cleaning up U.S. waters.
  • Many companies have joined with governmental and nongovernmental agencies alike in efforts to help people protect and conserve water.

Exercise

(AACSB) Analysis

It’s very popular today for company spokespersons to brag about the great things their companies are doing to help the environment. Condé Nast, a worldwide magazine publishing company, questioned whether many of these vocal companies have earned bragging rights or whether they’re merely engaging in self-serving marketing stunts. After extensive research, Condé Nast created two lists: the “Green 11 roster of good guys” and the “Toxic 10” list of offenders that could be doing more to help the environment. Review Condé Nast’s findings in its article “The Toxic Ten” (at http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/national-news/portfolio/2008/02/19/10-Worst-Corporate-Polluters). Select one of the companies spotlighted. Go to that company’s Web site and read about its environmental efforts. Then answer the following questions:

  • Based on the information provided in the Condé Nast article and on your selected company’s Web site, how would you rate the company’s environmental initiatives?
  • Do the statements on the company’s Web site mesh with the criticism voiced by Condé Nast?
  • In your opinion, does the company deserve to be on Condé Nast’s “Toxic 10” list. Why, or why not?
  • Why does the company promote its environmental efforts? Is this promotion effective?