Environmental damages such as the greenhouse effect, the melting of the polar ice cap, the increase of the worldwide temperatures and natural disasters were not believed in the past, but now are a terrifying reality. Who is responsible for these issues?
There is a huge debate: we believe that there is a common responsibility between individuals, institutions and private companies. However, we also consider that both companies and governments are the main actors behind environmental damage.
It is true that nowadays individuals have the capacity to choose if they want to contribute to the solution buying environmentally responsible products. But the actions of the individuals are despicable in comparison with the big picture that are big firms and governments policies. As there are as many retractors as supporters of this argument, we will be listing the most common arguments that back this point of view (governments and companies are the main responsibles for climate change, not society).
Policies are not sufficient
Beijing, capital of China, has experimented a rapid economic growth, which has come at the cost of air quality. Recent studies have revealed that the main source of pollution are related to the emission generated by transportation and industry.
Transport, for example, is considered culprit of China’s pollution, for being responsible of the 58% nitrogen oxides and 40% of volatile organic compounds found in air. And statistics conclude that the number car owners are growing considerably year by year. Right now there are around 200 cars per 1,000 people. This is why the government encourages shifting to public transport and tries to limit the number of cars drivers by adopting a license plate lottery system.
Even though citizens are conscious of the problem that air pollution causes to health, which kills more people than Malaria and HIV, there’s little they can do. There is a huge need for more public transport, most of the vehicles are old and produce too many emissions, and there is an important lack of effective trucks and public transportation. Therefore, the only thing that individuals cand do is to ask government for the improvement and renovation of the actual public transport.
There are a set of rules made by the United Nations regarding the control of hazard gases to the atmosphere such as the Kyoto Protocol of 1997. This is a pact in which a set of countries compromised to decrease the carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. Countries are ruled by such regulations and they must fulfill them. It is their responsibility and individuals are not taken into account.
Governments have to find a way to punish companies that act against the environment. What governments are doing now is to put fines to companies which have a huge amount of money and can pay that without problem. Another solution should be found to avoid those harmful actions like a ban in the market.
For example, a petrol company called Repsol was fined with 100 million euros for throwing petrol waste to a river. As the company can afford to pay that, it makes the payment and everything solved.
New ways to avoid this acts should be found by governments with the help of organizations like Greenpeace, WWF, FSC or Friends of Earth (FOE), which have knowledge in this area.
It is true that every single people’s daily activity has an impact on the environment, and that we should all help as we could since each of us is responsible of the actions we make. But most people is not assuming that responsibility. Only a bunch of people “volunteer” to help or fight for the cause, trying to make the rest of us aware of this problem.
That is why the government has the responsibility and the power to make things change. It has the means to give us the education we lack on this field, but also to create new laws to regulate the impact and the pollution we cause.
Some governments, as for example Canadian or the United States, have already played their role in this matter by enforcing diesel trucks with diesel oxidation catalyst (DOC) filters to reduce emissions. Moreover, they have contributed to the development of an Air quality health index, a public information tool that helps citizens protect their health on a daily basis from the negative effects of air pollution and how to avoid producing it.
Following the previous argument, governments should be much more strict when applying this rules, and investigate companies actively, penalizing hard those ones which do not fulfill them. It may be said that this process can be very expensive, but protecting the environment is one of the most important things to do if no the most, so any government must use all their means to deal with irresponsible companies.
Usually governments are responsible of dealing with the public wasted generated by individuals. Given this, the governments should manage this wastes in the most efficient way possible. It is true that if individuals recycled more, this process would become easier and cheaper, so governments should make some campaigns to encourage people to recycle. For example, in Finland recycling cans is gifted with a little amount of money.
There are many places that can’t be reached by government or individual influence easily, for example, international waters, there is an incredibly huge amount of garbage floating around the atlantic ocean, and it’s not just because what we throw out while we are at the beach, but because of all the garbage that is thrown out of ships traversing it, and many times the only people responsible for those actions are the companies to which those ships belong, in these situation regulations would be hard to create and enforce, and it’s not like a normal person can make a difference in whether a ship decides to dump its garbage in the ocean or not, it’s companies.
Governments and corporations have a great forward-looking responsibility for creating different opportunities for individuals to behave responsibly and acting in friendly ways, by making information accessible, developing and presenting their products….etc. The more available and suitable number of good options, the more options that individuals can opt for. Moreover, the greater the extent to which institutions have assumed their responsibility, the larger the number of capable individuals who assume their forward-looking responsibility.
For example, EU’s fisheries policy to control fish stocks.
Individuals are certainly part of the environmental crisis, but in a minor extension. They can make a difference when making choices about what to buy and by their behaviour, which will contribute to solve the problem or just make it worst. In addition, most people in industrialised societies understand and are well informed about their role in this matter. All of this is already known.
Nonetheless, we do not take into consideration that companies are always lying and tricking us. They already know that many people nowadays are aware of this problem and, therefore, use different approaches and formulas to make them believe that, for example, they are purchasing an environmentally friendly or more environmentally friendly products than the ones of the competence when the real greener action taken by the firm has been a simple and cheap change of appearance of the product. This is called a greenwashing technique and it is more used than we think.
- In 2009 McDonald changed to green the classical background color of its logo to appear more environmentally conscious. Many electric companies also follow this strategy (Iberdrola).
- The use of words like “organic”, “only made by natural materials” or “chemical-free” in the packages of the products.
- The use of fake eco-labels or certifications, sometimes even verified by internal doubtful tests (many electronic devices).
As a consequence, of course, companies are to blame for its environmental consequences and not individuals, as they are just manipulated.
Some companies claim that they are working to reduce the environmental impact of their actions and their production processes but it’s not true at all. For example, companies like Apple say that their products are eco-friendly because they waste no electricity while charging or they are done using materials which are harmless to our health like mercury-free screen (https://www.apple.com/environment/). This is true, but if we think were products are done and the environmental impacts of the cases where products are sold or even the pollution caused by the poor conditions on their factories in china or the pollution caused by the transport of the goods from the factory to the seller it’s clear that companies can work more in this topic.
Weak corporate financial performance and an unhealthy economy in companies might have a significant influence on the environment, as they may act in not healthy ways. Economic conditions such as, the health of firms and the economy and the level of competition to which corporations are exposed affect the likelihood of corporations ‘ behaviour in socially responsible ways. Therefore, a commitment towards a good environmental plan is required.
Apart from helping companies having a competitive advantage by differentiating themselves, being environmentally also inspires innovation, which involves longer-term immunity and business sustainability. Therefore this responsibility could enormously ease the company.
Companies are responsible for climate change. Companies have the resources and technology to incorporate ecological means in their processes. Nevertheless, they do not implement them since those ecological processes have an extra cost. And governments provide money to help to buy those ecological technologies but they do not take them since it is cheaper to pay a fine than to pay the upgrade. So the fault is both of the government, since they fail to provide good policies, and of the companies, since they look only for the money and do not have a future vision.
Companies look for profit, and therefore their main focus is to maximize incomes and minimize costs, the environment has no place in that; however that’s one of the main responsibilities of a government, this is, to try to look for the best option of a society, and if the planet dies, it hasn’t fulfill its reason to be.
If individuals are considered part of the environmental problem is all because of organisations fault. As the Story of Stuff Project video states, we are currently living in a system that has been designed for the dump in which companies carefully design their products “to be thrown up, hard to upgrade, easy to break and impractical to repair” and use marketing to make us keep on consuming (in short time). This way, their profit levels are always maintained or increased.
Still, this implies more material needed to meet the demand, which means more natural resourced that are taken and even more waste that is produced, impacting directly on the environment. Individuals are just puppets of today’s current economic system, based on consumerism, and companies the clear responsible.
Companies have to fulfill a set of rules regarding the environment, such as controlling emissions into the air, storing waste safely, recycling, not causing stationary nuisance (noise, smoke, dust…) or getting permissions before trading fluents into sewerage systems. Many companies ignore one or more of this rules because addressing the problems appropriately costs money. Individuals often don’t know about which companies are doing this, so they can’t be blamed even if they consume this companies’ goods.
Evolution / Technology
When the first human being lit a fire to cook his/her meal thousands of millions of years ago the climate change movement began, and also the beginning of technology.
The society begun to take advantage of new technologies, societies begun to organize by themselves and governments were created to represent the society. Nowadays there are lots of technologies that are hazard to the environment but represent a key role in the development of societies and thus, humanity.
Governments, the representatives of those societies, are responsible for the well being of a particular society, and it is their fault to fail to regulate in an appropriate way technologies and activities that damage the environment.
Governments do not take into account climate change and environmental issues seriously, and are therefore their fault.
Like companies look for profit, governments look for being re-elected in the next elections. This is because environmental issues are a long term problem, and they are not generally on a politician’s agenda.
Awareness has been raised about pollution, acts and bills have been passed and laws created but pollution is still one of the major problems of our planet, mainly because the government is too lazy or too selective when it comes to enforcing those laws, many companies have gotten away with many things in the past, and the reason is lobbying, lobbying is a powerful tool in the hands of powerful companies and it is used to make the governments blind to irregularities everywhere, adopting a “what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over” philosophy over the issue, thus pollution is the responsibility of both governments and companies, governments must be more strict and stop giving in to pressure from companies, and companies need to accept their role in the safeguarding of the environment and stop applying this pressure.
Expert’s view / Engineering as an ethical profession
Companies shouldn’t be understood as an ethereal being. Companies aren’t just a brand, they are composed by people. These people have reasoning capacity and take conscious actions.
A company’s actions aren’t determined by randomness. Any industrial process (no matter the importance, from small everyday operations to f. E. fundamental oven operations) are determined by the individuals running the companies. They have have full scientific and legal (should be this way) understanding of the process and products that they are designing.
My point is that they have full knowledge of the consequences of their industrial processes. Consequently they have the ethical “duty” of carrying out the best actions possible.
Companies are the only ones (not even the government) that are fully aware of the needs and consequences of their industrial processes and products. They are the only ones that how much oil and water is needed for manufacturing a product. An individual (maybe not, if he/she has got technical knowledge) doesn’t know how many resources are needed or which pollutants are emitted in the manufacturing process of a product only by looking at the product. Consequently companies have the duty of making an environmental assessment of their manufacturing processes.
Our economy, and therefore our society, is based on consumption. Individuals are responsible of what resources they consume, how they consume them, and why.
Each people needs to be sensible in choosing which resource they can exploit, to analyze if our dependency and investigate if they are limited in nature, we have to study if by consuming we create pollution or not and lastly if the reason of consume them worth it or we are just wasting those supplies.
Individuals just consume the products that large corporations produce and, because of that, the environmental impact we are responsible of depends on how much those companies pollute to create these products or services and on the amount of pollution they will generate in their the lifecycle.
If we want society to pollute less we must start by asking corporations to change their supply chain in the way they reduce the environmental impact , and by provide us with more environmental friendly solutions of their products.
Individuals can only do so much to protect the environment, they may be able to choose public transportation instead of their own cars, or paper bags instead of plastic bags, but they can’t do anything about the massive amounts of pollution generated by factories, coal fueled power plants, irresponsible waste disposal and the like, you can’t expect individuals to make huge sacrifices to reduce their carbon print so that companies can keep polluting the environment to save a marginal amount of benefit.
Individuals cannot be always responsible of environmental damage as many individuals lack options, the control or just do not have the resources to do the environmentally friendly things that they would actually love. The real environmentally conscious products always tend to be more expensive, such as pesticide-free food or energy efficient electronic devices, and that limits the number of people that can afford those products. There may be others, like the lack of decent public transportation that would force people from that place to use environmentally unfriendly vehicles as, for example, the car; or the obligation of many industries or companies to meet people face-to-face that contributes to the air pollution due to extensive business traveling instead of just videoconferencing. But those actions depend on companies and government, and not people.