Embracing Corporations for the Environment

In a previous article I described the need to redefine our economic model such that resources are valued prior to consumption, and a cost is incurred as they are removed. The idea was that in a world with finite resources, it is not sustainable to continually stoke our economy with stimulus funds to encourage further consumption.

Of course, this is a very complex problem. It is human nature to collect as many resources as possible. This very economic model has allowed for technological progress and has provided better, safer living conditions as a result.

So how does a society spur innovation, while steering off the disastrous course of over-consumption? One concept I had proposed was that by significantly increasing the cost of removing resources, companies must become very efficient at utilizing those resources to turn a profit. Rather than growth, the focus turns to balance. A country which over-consumes would be seen to have an unhealthy economy, while those focused on resource replenishment and efficiency would prosper.

This requires a significant shift in social values. To strive for balance is to shift the pinnacle of success from one who owns everything, to one who has the highest quality of life (i.e. physically, emotionally, etc.).

Where can we even begin to initiate this social shift? We are seemingly stagnated by a societal structure that is so entrenched it can’t be budged. But there is an old saying which I think has merit: “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” Specifically, I am referring to large corporations which are the life blood of our current economy. And while it is
easy to point the finger at corporations as the cause of (or at the least the fuel for) our unsustainable economic practices, it is unrealistic to suggest our current society could survive without them. Organizations must be changed from the inside, not torn down from the outside – but perhaps the occasional outsider can help.

Non-profit organizations (NPO’s) are popular outlets for advocates of a cause, but there is an unfortunate disconnect between NPO’s and corporations. While an NPO may house the expertise and knowledge of what is required for change to occur, there are often barriers to achieve change on the scale desired, whether those barriers be financial or lack of influence. A successful corporation tends to be both financially well-to-do and have a powerful circle of influence, thus it seems an intuitive partnership. Why then, does the disconnect exist?

We can say that corporations simply don’t care (or that they care only about money), but corporations are just collections of people, and people do care given the right motivation. What motivates people in a corporation? On at least on some level, we should assume that employees are motivated by what their company does – and this is how they can be embraced!

As an example, I work for a consulting firm, so it makes sense to engage interest in our consultants through pro-bono initiatives that offer business services to an environmental NPO. The NPO can improve their operations, consultants gain valuable experience, and more importantly the NPO’s mission gets exposure within the firm, contributing to a cultural shift. Now, when that same NPO is having difficulty embracing an Oil and Gas company (which is admittedly less aligned on the issue of environmental sustainability), there may be an opportunity to expand the NPO’s circle of influence through a relationship between the consulting firm and the Oil and Gas company.

Do you work for an advertising company? Offer subsidized advertising to a sustainability initiative – it may just result in the adoption of bio-friendly ink. Are you a manufacturing company? Consider optimizing the size of your packaging, perhaps during the re-design your advertising company will suggest a new bio-friendly ink. Whatever your
line of work, it is worth considering how the skill set of your company can be paired with a cause. Sustainability is a cause with many manifestations, so it may offer a good starting point.

We should embrace collaborating with corporations – they are crucial to achieving social change on a mass scale.