On December 3, 1984, the lives of 15,000 people in Bhopal, India, ended unexpectedly with a catastrophic chemical plant accident. On March 24, 1989, an oil barge, the Exxon Valdez, ran aground and created one of the worlds largest ecological disasters. Events like these are cemented into history because they have marked important turning points for enhanced levels of corporate social responsibility and their impact on the environment. On this topic we’ll approach the subject from two different vantage points:
Profit Comes First: The only responsibility companies have is to make profits for the shareholder! “Social responsibility” is just taking away from the bottom line.
Environment or Bust: Companies are responsible for understanding their impact on the world around them. If they can’t operate without taking the environment under consideration, they should not be doing business at all.
Profit Comes First
Beginning with the “Profit Comes First” argument, it is imperative for companies to make money. One might argue that making money is a way of having corporate social responsibility. By virtue of the positive economic impact companies can have on a society, they are being socially aware and active through the creation of jobs and wealth. It is the job of the individual citizens to be environmentally active and save Mother Earth whenever possible.
As a matter of fact, the more money a company can make and pass on to its employees and shareholders, the greater the potential for the society at large to invest in saving energy and resources. Furthermore, by allowing citizens to take ownership of the environmental problems, they are more active and engaged in making a difference in the world around them.
Companies are charged with the responsibility of creating products and services that help the society. The best companies are rewarded with more business, and more profit. However, if you ask companies to not only specialize in creating products and services, but also to specialize in saving the environment, the effectiveness of the company is diluted.
Environment or Bust
Over the last 100 years, the size and impact of companies has grown significantly. With that growth also comes new levels of responsibility. It is now the role of companies to take under consideration how their production processes and operations impact the environment. Just because they bring in strong profits, doesn’t necessarily mean they are improving the society at large!
For many years now, the trend has been to move manufacturing operations to other countries where labor cost and environmental regulations are lower. Because of this, many beautiful countries have had been bombarded with waste of all types that will have a long-lasting affect on the environment. Is being more environmentally friendly more expensive? Absolutely. Are we now living in a society in which companies must have a conscience to police themselves and think long-term? Of course.
So now that we have opposing arguments from both sides, where do I land? In my opinion, there must be a blend of both of these alternatives. Looking at the car industry, it would be fair to say that vehicles have not always been built with the environment in mind. As we look at the industry today, a transformation is taking place. Consumers, now more aware of the environmental impact cars have on Mother Earth, are now demanding more efficient vehicles. In response, vehicle manufacturers are making great strides in making a product that not only meets performance demands, but environmental demands as well.
Of course we need companies to make healthy profits and improve overall economies around the world. However, it is also important that companies begin considering how their operations can change now, to improve the future for millions of people for years to come.