Here is a new concept – businesses have a responsibility to the environment. Ponder that for a moment. Industry is relatively new in the history of mankind. When the industrial revolution kicked off, it was all about the bottom line, and return on investment. Fat-cat owners swanned around in big mansions while workers were expected to spend six days a week, twelve hours a day, slaving on subsistence wages. Slowly that changed.
It began with banning child labour. Then hours shortened, paid holidays were introduced, workers were compensated for workplace accidents. The realization grew that businesses had a responsibility to their workforce. Labour was not just a resource to be exploited, but a precious commodity that had to be nourished and cherished. If you treat your workers well you will get many more years of service out of them – but they will also show more loyalty to you, and you will actually benefit from their improved conditions.
Now we are coming to the realization that the environment is a similar resource. If you run a worker into the ground, you will no longer have their labour. If you deplete a natural resource, you will no longer be able to exploit it.
We know this on the macro level. We are running out of fossil fuels, and are desperately scrambling for new energy sources. We have slashed and burned the rain forests, and poured greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, accelerating global warming. But many of us see this as a global problem – the world governments must come to agreements to fix that one.
True – but we can all do our bit to help. That is where business responsibility comes in.
What is the environmental responsibility of business?
The concept of Corporate Social Responsibility is now well established. Environmental responsibility concerns the environmental aspect of that. It is the way in which businesses can incorporate environmental issues into their day to day operations, to eliminate waste and emissions, maximise reuse and recycling, and lessen their impact both on natural resources and on the environment around them. It is about managing the use of natural resources in the most effective and efficient way, in order to reduce environmental impact – and often, reduce costs at the same time.
That is the cool part – environmental responsibility can often be a win-win strategy. Here is a trivial example. If you use recycled printer toners you save the environment, but they also cost far less. So you save money. It helps you to do the right thing.
What do we mean by environmental responsibility?
Here is what the dictionary tells us – it is the duty that a company has to operate in a way that protects the environment. And it is not just about image. It saves money, and many institutional investors will evaluate a company’s environmental practices before investing in its stock.
That’s right – environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are a set of standards that socially conscious investors (and they are growing) use to screen potential investments. Environmental criteria consider how a company performs as a steward of nature. Sustainable investing now counts for one in four dollars in the US – and we won’t be far behind.
Why is environmental responsibility important for business?
There are so many answers to this question, but here are three good reasons why businesses should take responsibility for their impact on the environment.
- The world has become a more environmentally aware place. Your customers make their choices based on many things, but one is on how they impact on the environment. If your customers see you as one of the good guys, they will be more willing to spend their money with you.
- It can save you money. When CEC helped The Maryborough Hotel Hotel achieve zero waste to landfill, it slashed their waste management bill. And waste management is a big expense for the hospitality industry.
- It’s the right thing to do. That shouldn’t need an explanation!
Do businesses have a responsibility to protect the environment?
Again, that shouldn’t need an explanation. Business’s responsibility in this regard is well established. There are a whole slew of environmental laws that regulate how much emissions we can generate, how we can dispose of our waste, and how we can impact the natural environment in which we operate.
We can’t just pour our waste into the rivers – though that was acceptable just fifty years ago. We can’t just spew greenhouse gasses into the air – though that was acceptable just twenty years ago. Those protections are in place because society – and government – know businesses have a responsibility to the environment.
Regulations push us so far. But the next step is in our hands. Those businesses who acknowledge their responsibility to protect the environment will reap the benefits. Not just a better world, but a world in which their business sees savings and greater customer loyalty. It makes sense on every level to get ahead of this one.