Towards a Sustainable Business Ethic

By: David Miron-Wapner

I am always on the lookout for new books to expand my understanding of how humanity manages to survive the ravage of the natural environment wrought by the current global model of resource consumption accompanied by enormous waste and inequitable distribution of goods and services. An economy detached from its ecological base cannot lead to a sustainable future for global society.

So it was with great pleasure that I found “The Sustainability Revolution – Portrait of a Paradigm Shift” by Andres R. Edwards. With remarkable clarity Edwards explores the principles that are emerging from diverse sources to form an ideology to guide us on the road to a sustainable global political economy.

green“The Sustainability Revolution is challenging business managers to reevaluate how they operate their enterprises and how they measure success.” Businesses are being increasingly pushed to accept greater responsibility to the society in which they operate. This amounts to nothing less than the creation of a new business ethic, where environmental regulation is no longer seen as an impediment to success that should be avoided to one that seeks competitive advantages in devising innovative new strategies in the use of resources. It shifts business from opposition towards positive action that seeks and finds opportunity in exercising corporate responsibility.

The industrial revolution was fueled by a seemingly endless flow of resources to be exploited for corporate profit. This led to a “business as usual” model based on excessive resource consumption with accompanying waste and inequitable distribution of goods and services, geographically and within populations. This inequity not only leaves millions in poverty and depredation, but also imposes the burdens of redressing current environmental damage on future generations due to corporate focus on short-term gain rather than long-term sustainability.

Among the major principles that Edwards advocates for business is the “Precautionary Principle”, an early environmental movement slogan which posits that “where an activity raises threats of harm to human heath or the environment, precautionary measures should be taken even if some cause and effect relationships are not fully established scientifically.” Adherence to this principle challenges the process of technological innovation by calling for a thorough evaluation of the potential harm from the practical application and commercialization of our discoveries. A prime example is biotechnology, while holding tremendous beneficial promise for human health, also carries great threats to biodiversity and unintended consequences to a multitude plant and animal species.

Business, for the privilege of doing business in the protected corporate status granted by modern law, must act at least equally in the public interest that entails protecting and the environments in which it conducts its affairs. In creating value beyond the narrow interest of daily share prices, corporate/business activities must be based on acceptance of its obligation to produce benefit to society while leaving no waste in its wake. Opportunities will flow to those whose ethics embrace sustainability and social and human well being.