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Principles of Environmental Ethics

Extending Our Moral Stand


The general notion about environmental ethics is that if we are not responsible towards our
environment, we will destroy it and, in turn, we will destroy ourselves too. In other words, the
objective of environmental ethics is to safeguard ourselves. This is known as anthropocentric
environmental ethic, which means, human centred. Thus, the question is whether we can relate
environmental ethics only to ourselves or whether we can also extend it to others who share the
environment and nature.
Human being- It is natural to be anthropocentric in understanding and applying environmental
ethics because without the primary relation to human beings, environmental ethics is not
relevant. Thus, for instance, pollution diminishes our health, resource depletion threatens our
standards of living, climatic changes put our homes at risk, the reduction in biodiversity results
in the loss of potential medicines, and the eradication of wilderness means we lose a source of
awe and beauty. Thus, we need to respect and protect the environment for the sake of mankind. It
is a worthy moral ideal. That we think of saving the future generations by doing our duty to
protect the environment is also morally worthy.
Animals- Because of the raised consciousness of animal rights issues, we now understand that
animals too have senses of perception and feel pleasure and pain. They also have emotions of
happiness and suffering. These lead us to extend moral values to animals. Upon reflection, we
understand that these animals possess consciousness. Hence, our behavior towards them must be
judged as right or wrong. Further, we can understand that because of the very fact that they have
life, it becomes our obligation to protect them. Thus, when animals are used for consumption or
for experimentation in labs, it is ethically wrong. The utilitarian principle that they are for the use
of human beings is null and void. The debate on animal ethics has sharpened in this manner.
Living organisms- Ethicists have gone another step further and said that ethical values be
extended to all forms of life. The Hindu scriptures, saints, and traditions have always upheld the
sanctity of all living organisms. The principle is that compassion must be shown to all living
forms because they have life. If this is so, human beings should not be even allowed to breathe
for fear of destroying the organisms that are a part of the atmosphere. Logic requires taking a
balanced and reasonable stand on this issue.
Holistic entities- Aldo Leopold, one of the pioneers in environmental ethics, advocated the
extension of ethical standards to holistic entities, which he called land ethic. He proposed that we
should stop exploiting the land as a mere source of resource. In the Indian tradition, land is given
the status of a mother and is called Mother Earth because it brings forth everything into the
world. The scriptures and the saints teach us to respect the earth the way we respect our mothers.

At times, the moral arguments presented by ethicists cross the limits of prudence. The
Indian tradition lays great worth on the intuitive understanding of ethical actions. The Indian
virtue of avoiding extremes and striking a balance by using our prudence is important. In
Buddhism, it is known as the middle path of right living.

Radical Ecology
The ethics of radical ecology consists of moving away from extending ethical positions,
especially from the point of view of human beings. In other words, the anthropocentric position
is an old one and we must find a new ethical paradigm. It implies that we make ethics ecology
centred. Since humans are only a part of the ecological system, extending ethics to ecology is to
make a part larger than the whole. Humans would have to act within the ecological system in
accordance with ecological ethics, and not a human one. This will cause fundamental changes in
our society and its institutions.
Deep ecology- The proponents of this theory reject anthropocentric environmental ethics, calling
it shallow because of its limited interest in the environment- it is interested only in so far as it is
helpful to human beings. Deep ecology rejects such utilitarian view and advocates a radical
view:
I.
II.
III.
IV.
V.

Both human and non-human lives have intrinsic value. The anthropocentric
position recognizes only a relative value.
Except to satisfy their vital needs, humans have no right over environment.
Exponential population growth is an infringement of ecological ethics, since the
ecosystems are not meant to support more than their capacity.
The present human interference with nature and its resources is excessive.
One must distinguish between the quality of life and the standard of living. The
former is eco- friendly, the latter exploitative.
This kind of thinking has been called as ecosophy (ecological philosophy), in contrast to the
usual philosophy that concentrates only on human values. Ecosophy aims at raising the human
consciousness to ecological values.
Social ecology- The advocates of this theory believe that environmental problems are directly
related to social problems, and can be traced to the fact of dominance. Social systems, economics
included, create a dominant system, which works according to a superior and subject- related
hierarchy, It is the same hierarchical relationship of master-servant that is extended to the
environment. In fact, the economic free-market system has reduced both human beings as well as
nature to commodities, and exercises control over them. Hence, the environment must be
liberated from such dominance of the economic system. The advocates of social ecology propose
that there is no dominance of species within the ecosystems. The relationship is mutual between

the various systems of ecology. Society must change in accordance with the law of ecology,
abandon hierarchy, and promote mutual interdependence.
Eco-feminism- Within the fold of deep ecology, the advocates of eco-feminism take the idea of
social dominance to its logical conclusion of sexual domination. One such idea relates to our
nature of moral arguments. Traditionally, it is held that only reason is capable of presenting
correct moral argument. Emotions such as sentiments of affections, anger, and other human
feelings are excluded. The dominance of masculine rational logic is the cause for subjugating the
feminine emotional dimension. Domination always divides reason and emotion, mind and body,
man and woman, superior and inferior. Eco-feminism challenges such dualism. Thus, in
application to the environment, the distinction between man and nature must be obliterated so
that humans do not find any reason to exploit the environment. To create a fair society, there
must be an end to the divisions of domination and subordination. Feminism is the answer to
reconcile these divisions and create harmony.

Environmental Challenges as Business Opportunities


In early February 2009, there was a Summit on Sustainable Development organized by The
Energy and Resource Institute (TERI) under the leadership of R. K. Pachauri, the head of the
Nobel Prize winning UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One of the speakers was
Thomas Friedman, the highly acclaimed New York Times columnist, whose syndicated writings
appear in Indias English language papers. In his submission, Friedman brought out the basic
assumption of his recent work Hot, Flat and Crowded: Why the World Needs a Green
Revolution- and How We Can Renew Our Global Future. By the middle of this century, another
three billion people will be added to the nearly six and half billion people existing today. Then
there are other problems such as climate changes due to global warming, excess carbon, energy
poverty, and so on. How can these problems be solved? He suggests a revolution- a green
revolution. Not a red revolution as the historical bloody revolution, or the red that suggests the
American way of life that exploits nature mindlessly, or the red in the American flag. The failure
is on two fronts. The industrial world, for most of its part, has failed to fulfill its responsibility
towards changing its strategies about the use of both natural resources and the technology that is
used to exploit such resources. On the other hand, governments have not been able to form
policies for an equitable distribution of wealth. Thus, two things are important for an ethical
society-environmentally sustainable strategy for businesses have in the adoption of sustainable
practices; economic empowerment will follow as a consequence.

Sustainable Development as Corporate Strategy


Sustainability as a business strategy is no more a strange subject for corporations.In the new
millennium, corporations are realizing that in less than a decades time, that is, before2020, they

would have to manage resources sustainably with advanced technology and according to what
customers want. Customers want a pollution-free environment, so industries have to change the
way they manufacture. In order to do this, they need to use clean technologies. Clean
technologies demand clean energy, and clean energy lies not in the traditional sources of coal and
oil, but in the sun, the wind, and hydrogen.
Resource management through recycling- Steve Morris is an owner of toner and inkjet
cartridges. It struck him that sooner or later, printer manufacturers would one day have to switch
to sustainable management. If he could find a way to do so, he could have a profitable business.
The solution lay in using cheaper and environmentally friendly cartridges. So, he approached the
users of printers- individuals, institutions, and businesses-and collected their used cartridges and
other imaging consumables without any charge, and they were happy to get rid of them, too. He
then conducted his business in such a way that not a single can of toner or cartridge became a
part of the landfill. He produced recycling and manufactured toners and inkjets, which were
completely environmentally friendly.
Competitive advantage strategy- Corporations thus far have been following David Ricardos
theory of cheaper input costs, such as raw material, labour, and capital. The bottom-line is that
cost effectiveness results in greater profits. Where such downsizing on one side and higher
returns on the other do not work, sustainability gives a greater advantage. In the recent past,
corporations have downsized everything, beginning with retrenchment of labour, and then
outsourced to cut costs. Corporations will benefit more if they follow the following four
strategies:
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.

Take advantage of the new technologies to design new products.


Focus on customer needs.
Innovate to gain increased market share.
Commit to best practices and improvement.

Business ethics or corporate governance- Sustainability is an ethical principle that underlines


the ethical and intelligent use of resources. Companies imbibing th values of good governance
practices scale higher in the estimation of customers. Companies have come to realize that by
putting stress on environmental and societal interests and through corporate governance they can
increase their customer base and customer loyalty.

New Opportunities of Product Differentiation


In business, product differentiation plays a significant role to win an edge over competition. If a
product is based on the sustainability principle, and also excels over the products of the usual
competitors, then it is not just a product of a higher quality, but also an environmentally and
ethically sound product. Today, the market is moving away from fuel efficient, energy efficient,
and reduced emission level products, such as cars and electric bulbs, towards those that use

alternative energy sources such as solar, wind, and hydrogen. According to Hargroves(2005),
product differentiation is based on:
i.
ii.
iii.
iv.
v.

Reduced emission levels of toxic martial


Measurement of prosperity by less activity and less use of what is environmentally
damaging
Going beyond the compliance levels of regulation and setting new benchmarks
Smaller amounts wasted
No wastes, but 100% recycling

The concepts sustainability can be explained through natural ecosystems. For instance, let
us examine the food chain. Vegetation grows and prospers in the abundance of sunlight, water,
and nutrients, and is consumed by insects, birds, and animals, both big and small. Their
nourishment creates waste, which in turn becomes nourishment for the vegetation, and the cycle
repeats itself. In the same way, if human beings have to be eco-efficient, they have to use,
produce, consume, and transform waste into raw material for production, by recycling it.

Increasing Profitability and Minimizing Risk


Every business is oriented toward profit and minimizing risks.
There are five forces that affect the competition in an industry.
a)
b)
c)
d)
e)

Rivalry among existing competitors


Threat of new entrants
Threat of substitute products
Bargaining power of suppliers
Bargaining power of customers

It is the sustainability principle that will allow not merely survival in the competition, but also
excellences. This is, however, good when sustainability is a novelty. What happens when all the
competitors become sustainable? How can one increase the profits and minimize the risks?
Such a scenario is already happening. The competition for sustainable products is increasing. By
adopting the principle of sustainability, businesses break their old vicious circle of exploitation of
resources, production, and waste into a virtuous circle of production, consumption, reconversion
or recycling, and back to production. The sustainability principles have the inner dynamism to
allow the regeneration of resources and the saving of ecology.
The pattern of old competition stated above also breaks down. The new principle changes the
attitudes or approaches to business. One of the first things that the competitors realize is that they
have to change their old negative or aggressive competition into a sustainable social behavior.
Businesses would succeed only if they become social institutions. They would have to move
beyond regulated corporate governance to voluntary ethical behavior. Only good companies will
be able to do good business.