You are on page 1of 39

Philosophy 223

Business and the Environment
Climate Change and Sustainability

Environmental Responsibilities?
The attempt to specify the nature and force
of business’ responsibilities to the
environment faces a significant conceptual
stumbling block: the lack of a consensus
about the nature of environmental
responsibilities in general.
If we can’t agree what the nature of an
individual’s responsibilities to the
environment are, how can we say anything
about business’s?

Important Questions
If we are going to achieve consensus on the
nature of environmental responsibilities we
need to agree on answers to some basic
 What counts as “the environment”?
 What are the possible sources of responsibility to
the environment?
 What is the force of such responsibility?

the objects or the region surrounding anything. it does highlight an important fact: the environment is not something separate from human life and activity.What Counts?  The OED defines environment as “That which environs.  We make a mistake when we treat the environment as if it were something external to human concerns and activities. We are part of the environment.”  Though this definition lacks the specificity necessary to help us. .

What Counts?  Humans are part of the environment. but there are important differences between us and other environmental “agents. and choose from amongst possibilities. we need to acknowledge the scope and consequences of our unique capacity to shape the world around us to satisfy our desires and interests. we need to recognize that we don’t just act.  Quantitatively. .  Qualitatively.”  The differences are both quantitative and qualitative. we have the capacity to reflectively assess our acts.

What Counts?  When we consider the choices we’ve made and those that confront us now.  Conservation of resources  Preservation  Pollution  Use of agricultural adjuncts (pesticides. biodiversity  Systemic impact of human life (global warning. population growth) . sprawl. genetically modified crops and livestock)  Moral status of non-human life. a range of issues that count as “environmental” become evident. fertilizers.

Sources of Responsibility Given the force of these questions. There is a broad range of possible values from which a responsibility to the environment may emerge. it is important to consider resources from which we may be able to secure responses. .

. it’s everyone's.  Aesthetics: natural beauty is a great source of pleasure to humans and thus deserves to be preserved.  Economics: growth requires an extensive range of environmental goods. we don’t have another. This can be true of present others or future others. If we make choices that limit other’s access to we act unjustly.  Justice: It’s not just ours.Sources of Responsibility  The values in question include:  Prudence: it’s our environment.  Religion: humans as stewards. if we mess it up. degradation limits growth.

Indeed.  Ex. not all of these values call us to responsibility in the same way. How do we resolve these conflicts? . in many instances values may conflict. Economic values conflicting with Aesthetic values.A Conflict of Values? Clearly.

 After all.  A non-anthropocentric ethics is going to produce a much different list of values that would have to be considered. ignoring the question of the moral status of non-human nature.Another Complication  The situation is rendered even more complex when we note that these values don’t exhaust the possibilities. the list we considered all seem animated by human capacities and concerns. .

it seems reasonable to conclude that there are responsibilities that businesses have as well. .  If there are individual responsibilities to the environment.Business and the Environment  Where does business fit into this complicated picture?  Choices and activities engaged in by businesses clearly impact the environment just like those of individuals.

.  This consideration provides us with another context for assessing these theories.The Intersection of Theories  A fruitful way to flesh out the account of business’ responsibility to the environment is to consider how the various theories of Corporate Social Responsibility we’ve examined would assess these areas of significance.

relative value best determined by market.  Preservation: natural areas have no intrinsic value. a business’ responsibility is to maximize profit within the law.  Optimal Pollution: level of pollution tolerable to relevant parties. .  Resource Use: Cornucopism (a combination of market forces and human ingenuity means that in practice there is no limit to any particular type of resource).  Biological Diversity: non-human life has no intrinsic value. as specified by market mechanisms.The Classical Model and the Environment  According the the classical model. relative value best determined by market.

absence of markets.Criticisms of the Classical Model’s Analysis  Criticisms of this account frequently point to the sort of market failures we’ve analyzed this semester: externalities. and conflicts between individual and social interests.  Such responsibilities ultimately rest on beliefs and values.  A more fundamental criticism questions the appropriateness of employing economic categories to assess environmental responsibilities. economics can only address desires and preferences. .

businesses have no specifiable environmental responsibilities.The Moral Minimum Model and the Environment According to the MM Model. some goods/values are so fundamental they should be exempt from economic determination. Such goods are appropriate objects of government regulation: Clean Air Act. Beyond concern for the values thus protected. .

Criticisms of the MM Model’s Analysis  Are the laws really a reflection of the beliefs and interests of the citizenry? Who has a greater capacity to shape legislation: industry or citizens?  Are consumer beliefs immune to influence by business? Why do businesses (and politicians) spend ~$200 billion a year on advertising?  Is the law sufficient to guide managerial discretion? .

 Theorists typically highlight four areas of particular significance: Pollution. . and Biological Diversity. Resource Use. there is general consensus amongst business people concerning the content of their responsibilities. Preservation.  The principle of environmental pragmatism suggests that while there is continuing disagreement about the source and force of such responsibility.Environmental Pragmatism  Many have argued that businesses should not be put off by the complexity of the issues raised by talk of environmental responsibility.

Money and Motor Cars” Bowie plays devil’s advocate and defends a Friedman like view of corporate obligations to protect the environment whereby companies have no special obligations to protect the environment above what is required by law. He notes two important qualifications: businesses should not lobby against the wishes of the people and should help educate consumers about the environment.Bowie. . “Morality.

Business has an obligation to obey the law.Does business have an obligation to protect the environment? Bowie starts his discussion by considering what sort of responsibilities someone like Friedman would say businesses do have. Business has an obligation to avoid negligent behavior. .

 The corollary argument is that businesses have no obligation to protect the environment above the requirements of law.  Consider the example of automobiles:  ~50. .000 persons will be injured.  Automobiles can be made much safer so as to significantly reduce the possibility of harm.  Given the harm that would come from increasing safety and the unwillingness of the consumers to pay the price.000 persons will die in wrecks this year in the U.  Doing so would be very costly.  ~250.S. businesses have no obligation to make cars safer.  Consumers are unwilling to pay for ultra safe cars.An Argument  Bowie then considers the implications of the following claim: No one has a right to harm another person unless there is a compelling. overriding moral reason to do so..

businesses have no special obligations to protect the natural environment above the law. . Consumers typically reject green products as too expensive or too much trouble to use. Therefore. Businesses cannot be expected to oppose such consumer preferences.Whose Job is it Anyway? Citizens determine environmental laws.

 Since point 4 is inconsistent with point 1.  The political arena is the only other viable forum in which consumers express their preferences.  Business lobbying interferes with the expression of these preferences. business should not intervene in the political process.First Qualification Businesses should not oppose environmental legislation. .  Business escapes special obligations because it is willing to respond to consumer preferences.  Consumers often cannot express their preferences in the market.

Second Qualification  Business has a special obligation to educate consumers about environmentally responsible choices. . Business would benefit from doing so if appropriate legislation were the result. Business has expertise about environmental matters. Business has no problem leading consumer preferences.

Five main lines of argument are developed and the authors’ argue for specific obligations in the transportation and electricity center regarding carbon emissions abatement.Arnold and Bustos. . Ethics. “Business. It then uses the case of global climate change as a basis for arguing against Bowie’s position. and Global Climate Change” This essay provides factual background regarding global climate change. Public policy recommendations are also made.

the other two are grounded in fundamental moral concepts. . They develop five main arguments. They argue for the view that businesses have moral obligations above and beyond the law regarding global climate change. The first three are based on concerns about consumers.No To Bowie Arnold and Bustos consider and reject Bowie’s position.

so those citizens have little recourse.g.S.) It is unreasonable to think consumers have an accurate understanding of the causes of global warming. citizens. yet the preferences regarding harm to non-U.The Interests of Consumers Many nations in which MNCs conduct business lack democratic institutions. Consumer preferences are not always satisfied by businesses (e.S. citizens impact nonU.. . (The preferences of U. hybrid mini-vans.S. use of renewable energy). citizens remain unaccounted for.

citizens will be disproportionate to their use of atmospheric resources. Preference satisfaction of U.S. consumers makes use of a per-capita disproportionate level of atmospheric resources.S. . Harm to future generations is not considered.Harm to Others Preferences typically entail a claim on resources. so the harm caused to non-U.

.Fairness It is unfair to require others to pay for the costs of benefits one has secured for oneself without their uncoerced consent. The transportation and electricity generation sectors should be held accountable for their GHG emissions to date.

Appropriate tax incentives for CO2 emissions reductions. Significant penalties for failing to meet CO2 emissions targets.Conclusions Target goals for reduced emissions in the transportation and energy sectors corresponding to past emissions. .

As is the case with many new concepts.What is sustainability? Sustainability is a hot topic in a number of different areas right now. the term refers to practices that don’t work at a loss. market viability is another. ‘sustainability’ is still a bit fuzzy. Intuitively. Obviously. . perpetuation is only one goal. that can be perpetuated indefinitely. including business management.

DesJardins. “Sustainability: Business’s New Environmental Obligation” This essay defends the position that businesses have an ethical obligation to engage in sustainable development. It also provides an economic defense of sustainable development. .

A Choice of Possibilities We confront a choice. Either we assume that there are no biophysical limits to economic growth. Bowie argues that business can act in an environmentally responsible way only if directed by consumers or the law. DesJardins argues that managers can do much more. . Deny the world’s poor a prosperous lifestyle. Pursue sustainable economic activity.

. which seeks simply to increase the gross amounts of goods and services.Growth or Nature? Sustainable Development: Economic activity that aims to meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Distinguished from mere economic growth.

. Services rather than production (e. Interface Corporation). Natural Capital: Harvest the ecological “interest” not the “capital.Types of Sustainable Development Biomimicry: Waste from production cycle is recycled in a closed loop.g.” .

Avoiding legal liability. . Reducing operating expenses. there are also strong economic reasons: Eliminating waste.Economic Rationales for SD Though DesJardins believes that businesses have compelling moral reasons to develop sustainable processes.

Acknowledging that there are potential risks. “Genetically Modified Organisms and Business Duties” This essay focuses on the agricultural production of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs).Cooley. Cooley discusses several versions of the precautionary principle (precaution must be appropriate to the risk) and defends most uses of GMOs based on reasonable person utilitarianism. .

What Precautions? Absolute skepticism (Greenpeace version) is too broad. . European Union refers to a “reasonable person” standard. as “reasonable persons” may not know the science. Cooley offers a modified reasonable person standard. No new products would enter the market. Still too broad.

. Cooley recommends a reasonable person utilitarianism whereby what ought to be done is what reasonable persons agree would promote overall welfare for persons.Reasonable Person Utilitarianism Critics and defenders of GMOs use consequentialist reasoning.

The risk doesn’t justify much precaution.  Reduces the need for pesticides. infections. Alleged harms of GMOs are mainly hypothetical and do not justify bans on their production or use.Cooley’s Calculation Adding it up: GMOs.  Prevents certain crops from going extinct and enhances genetic diversity.  Increased crop yields.  Capacity to provide health benefits to prevent blindness. . and death.  Enhances corporate profits.