Business sector has always been the key contributors to the environmental problems we all face nowadays. According to the United Nation Environment Programme, the environmental damage contributed by the world’s 3000 biggest companies in total costs approximately US$2.2 trillion in 2008 – an amount larger to the national income of all but seven countries in the world that year, making the business sectors to be the most major contributor of the global environmental problem. The enormous greenhouse gas emitted that worsens the air quality and leads to the climate change, the oil spill that pollutes the water, the toxic waste that damages the natural environment, the overexploitation that breaks the balance of the eco-system… all these malpractices can be found in the big businesses and there is no doubt that these big businesses do have a great impact on the environmental issues.
If these big companies and factories keep acting destructively to the environment solely for their economic interest, the worldwide environmental degradation will definitely get worsen and speed up the killing of the Earth; on the other hand, if they are conscious to stop their environmentally detrimental doing but responsibly take the lead to remedy the situation, they will definitely help save the Earth. However, when considering whether the big businesses will be the killers or the saviours of the earth, we should not only take the capability of these companies into account; we should also consider their attitude and behaviour towards the environmental issues, the factors that may affect their performance and if there are any other major contributors of the problem. In my opinion, with the consideration of all these factors, unfortunately, the big businesses will hardly save the earth in the foreseeable future.
To start with, there is a wide gap between the expectations of what the big businesses should be doing and the fact that what the big businesses are actually doing because of their attitude towards the environmental issues. Ideologically, as these big businesses are the major contributors to the current environmental problems and are powerful enough to reverse the situation, they should act as the strongest positive forces for environmental sustainability by accountably minimizing their pollutants emission and proactively promote environmental conservation so as to lead the communities to the road of further environmental protection. However, tragically the fact is that these companies prefer to work solely on their economic interests at the expense of environmental interest as it is a common belief that working on environmental sustainability only hinders the profitability of them.
They tend to lower the costs by using the cheapest way to deal with the pollutants regardless if such doing is actually damaging the environment and get the richest resources without caring the harm that may be brought to the eco-system. They resist the environmental regulations in the name of free market as in their eyes it will be a financial burden to take the environmental costs into account. That’s why big business would always forgo the environmental responsibility for the sake of economic interest. What’s more, although some suggests a strong ground of why the big businesses should work on environmental responsibility, saying that not polluting and maintaining environmental-friendly level of resources consumption help the businesses lower the cost in long run and also help them to build a social responsible image which reduces criticisms from interest groups and attracts more investors and consumers, such ground just seems not sound enough to these profit-driven companies.
According to a survey done by the consulting firm Accenture in 2008, nearly 90% of the world’s top 500 businesses rate global warming very low in their agenda. It exactly shows the indifferent attitude the big businesses have towards the environmental issues. At this moment, it is seemingly that the big businesses do not think that it is necessary to earn money from a long-run aspect by having a more environmental conservative approach. Not many of them seem to care that it will cost them a lot in the future to fix the problems they made nowadays. To them, in short-term saying, it will be much more difficult and expensive to take a more sustainable approach in doing business. The concept of acting socially and environmentally responsible is still not yet embedded in these businessmen’s head. The refusal to think long term and materialism clearly shows that at this moment we still cannot rely on big business to save the earth.
Besides, we also have to assess the factors that may affect the environmental performance of these big companies, that is, the stakeholders including the public, the international interest groups and the government. These stakeholders could act as watchdogs to monitor the companies’ corporate social responsibility performances so as to maintain their act up to the environmental standard to save the Earth. However, due to several reasons, it will be hard for the stakeholders to make effective monitoring. The reason for the public to hardly do so is that the proportion of the public that pays attention to corporate social responsibility is still quite small. Basically, the public could simply choose not being the customers of the business and influence the economic benefit the business gets if they find that it performs badly. However, the proportion is so small that it could hardly bring the influence.
A lot of people, especially those in developing countries, have little concepts about corporate social responsibilities. While people in developed countries may have more ideas about that, it does not mean that they are powerful and determined enough to make any effective move. Nestle will be an example used to explain it. Although Nestle has been criticized of its disappointing environmental performance over years and tons of international boycotting activities has been held to review the public opposition to them, the boycotting activities are obviously not strong enough to persuade Nestle to be environmental accountable as there is just a small proportion of public who cares about the company’s social responsibility performance and join the boycotting activities. Now, while news regarding the company’s environmental irresponsible activities still overwhelms, Nestle is still one of the largest and most profitable food companies worldwide.
This explains the problem of indifference of the general public over corporate social responsibility; because of this, it is hard to depend on the public’s monitoring over the big businesses’ environmental sustainability performance. On the other hands, the problem of green-washing also raises the difficulty of monitoring for the international organizations and the local government. Coca-Cola had been hiding the fact that the water used to produce Coke contained unhealthy levels of pesticides and other harmful chemicals; McDonald’s had been portraying its story of source reduction with partial unfavourable information covered; Wal-Mart had been selling furniture made from wood which had been illegally logged in protected habitats for endangered species until being discovered a few years ago… the list goes on. It is obvious that big businesses have been disguising their environmentally destructive activities by the use of spin and deceptive use of language in their labelling, marketing and corporate social responsibility reports.
Hardly can we find any disclosure of the misdoing or follow-up activities in the companies’ reports but only brilliant records of how well the companies are protecting the planet. The big businesses only use green-washing to protect their environmental image. Their practices have nothing to do with being sustainable or environmentally responsible – it is just simply companies’ positioning and marketing. The use of spin and disguise show companies’ dishonesty and the lack of transparency and they greatly hinder the international interest groups and the local governments to get the real information about the companies so as to effectively monitor them. It will be hard for the interest group and the government to maintain the big businesses’ environmental performance to a satisfying standard. In this sense, instead of saving our planet, the big business will only kill our natural environment faster.
Apart from all the mentioned above, there is also concern that if any other major contributors of the environmental issue. Acting environmentally responsible and saving the Earth are not just big business’s responsibility but also the whole society’s responsibility. We cannot solely rely on big business to save the planet as it is far from enough when the communities and individuals also contribute a lot in the environmental pollution and destruction problem. There are millions of households throughout the world and most of these households do not practice proper waste segregation and disposal.
All kinds of household disposal including leftovers, plastic bottles, cigarette butts and plastic bags etc. can seriously polluted the Earth if they are not treated properly. Also, excessive carbon footprints can be produced in these households and damage the environment without people notifying. All these can worsen the environmental degradation problem. Worse still, it is always easier to monitor the big business with the help of the international organization and the local government as there are clear regulations regarding their performance. On the contrary, it is much harder to monitor each and every household’s contributed pollutions and environmental damages as there are mot many regulations regarding this area. These disposals and pollutions sounds insignificant if we just look into one household; however, if we considers there are millions household in the globe, it is obvious that the damages are million times more serious. It makes the communities and individuals other major contributors apart from big business. To save the earth, we need concerted effort from all communities, individuals and big businesses. It cannot be done without any of them.
To conclude, it is impossible for the big business to save the Earth in the foreseeable future as these profit-driven companies in reality forgo environmental interests in exchange of economic interests though ideologically these big companies are powerful enough to save the planet by acting environmentally accountable and adopting environmental-friendly approaches. Worse still, the monitor of watchdogs over these big businesses is not strong enough to control the business acting accordingly to meet the satisfying environmental standard. Not only does the proportion of public feeling concerned about the environmental performance of corporate is still too small to be influential, but also the big business has been green-wash themselves to avoid charges from the international interest groups and the local government. Apart from all these reasons, it is never possible for the big business to save the earth solely without the concerted effort from the communities and individuals who also contributes a lot in the environment degradation.
Therefore, as what we can see in the moment, hardly will the big business save the Earth. Be that as it may, if the big business can collectively work with the watchdogs and other contributors of the environmental problem, there may still be a chance to save the earth. Education should be implemented around the world to teach the public about their role in monitoring the corporate performances and the importance of corporate social responsibility. More thorough guidelines and stricter regulations should be adopted by the international organizations and local governments so as to redress the green-washing practice and lessen all other malpractices regarding the environmental responsibility area. More importantly, big businesses should change their profit-driven attitude and start taking the long-term impact of environmental sustainability into account. They have to leadingly bear the environmental accountability so as to influence the small companies around the world; and together with the concerted effort with communities and individuals worldwide, there will still be chance to save our planet.