“…shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand.”
(Matthew 7:26, King James Bible)
There can be little doubt that mankind and indeed the whole planet is facing an environmental crisis. Whether that crisis is brought to a head by global warming, ozone depletion, acid rain, tropical deforestation or top soil erosion, remains to be seen. In this essay we will examine the role business is playing in creating this crisis and what it can do to help protect the environment in the future.
Business produces the goods and services that meet our needs, wants and desires. It is this process that has lead to much of the destruction of the environment that has taken place. This damage continues on a daily basis. However, business is not solely to blame for this; governments and consumers must take some of the responsibility. It is governments who regulate the business community both legally and economically and have allowed this environmental destruction to take place. Consumers must accept their share of the blame as it is they who have consented to consume goods and services produced in an environmentally damaging way. That said it is the unique and close relationship between the production process and the environment that places the burden of environmental protection squarely on the shoulders of business.
The manufacture of products and delivery of services for consumption involve necessarily the usage and conversion of raw materials. This process unavoidably produces waste. Indeed the processed product itself is destined to become waste as well. That is the nature of consumer goods; they are purchased, used and replaced. The production of the product will consume most of the resources, but even its utilization and eventual disposal consumes more. There is no escaping the fact that what goes in, must (inevitably) come out as waste. The fact is that resource scarcity and pollution are two sides of the same coin.
It is clear; that our current methods of production are having a seriously adverse affect on the environment. If these processes remain un-checked, the eco-systems, which we all rely on, will eventually be seriously damaged. The message is clear; we must seek out more environmentally sustainable methods of production. Since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 it has been internationally accepted that the ultimate goal of the UN environmental policy is sustainable production, which is production in harmony with the maintaining of global life support systems. In other words, sustainable production is the process where the consumption of materials and energy are reduced to a level where the ability of the environment to regenerate and assimilate the waste is maintained. This will have to be achieved in the face of a global demand for goods and services by a population which is likely to double in size before it stabilizes. Achieving sustainable production in the light of this demand is an enormous challenge.
What needs to be done is clear. Business has to reduce the environmental cost of production. However, we have not yet seen any radical shift in business practices which will bring about such a reduction. It is difficult for business to deny the need for environmental protection; however its response to the problem seems hap-hazard. At first the business community adopted programs which would simply fine tune their then existing practices. More recently they have been modifying their management techniques more drastically with a view to meeting the challenge head on. It seems to be recognized now that meeting these challenges requires a complete re-think of how business is conducted.
The investments and innovations of business have driven economic growth and satisfied consumer demand but, because of the resources consumed and the side effects of waste and pollution, they have become unfortunately...