Published on March 16, 2014
Zahringer 1 Critical Analysis & Discussion: Climate Change is a problem of Ethics By, Lauren Zahringer It may be that the future will be shaped not only by competitive economic growth, but also by potentially disruptive scarcities and the consequences of human induced climate change (Atkinson, 2010). The fact that the earth is heating up, or that resource consumption is unsustainable is not news. Climate scientists have noted concerns about the buildup of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the consequences of this, along with many other aspects such as deforestation, pollution, etc., for at least three decades. (Hulme, 2009). What is news is how devastating and rapid these changes may be. David Orr (2009) believes we are looking at nothing less than the collapse of human civilization. As Orr sees it, the cause of this potential calamity is our refusal to live with-‐in natural limits, our political negligence in the development of and dependency on an economy rooted in consumption, and our gross negligence in considering the well being of future generations. The conclusion then, is that we must act. But how do we even begin to think about this situation? The ways we do so vary greatly and they shape the solutions we believe are possible. There are many proposed scripts outlining solutions to climate change. This essay considers one proposal, which, although not formally labeled, will be referred to as the Benefit Corporation solution. This two-‐stage solution argues that we must use for-‐profit business to solve social and environmental problems that both cause and are caused by climate change and conditions stemming from climate change. The first stage requires creating a new type of business, one that is legally incorporated to maximizing a triple bottom line. The second stage is the increase in numbers and influence of this new type of business, ultimately producing a fourth sector of the economy and enabling the power of business to be unleashed for the betterment of society. This essay evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the Benefit Corporation solution in the context of the United States. The first section presents a discussion of the theories that frame the problem of climate change. Building upon this theoretical foundation, the second section outlines the specific components and assumptions of the Benefit Corporation solution. Section three identifies and evaluates the strengths and weaknesses of the Benefit Corporation for “solving” climate change.
Zahringer 2 1.0: Framing Climate Change As with most complex problems Climate change is multi-‐faceted and can be seen as problem from many different views depending on the frame of reference from which it is being viewed. It is argued here that the Benefit Corporation is a social, market and behavioral solution that frames climate change as an ethical issue. This section will first discuss three theoretical framings, ecological agency, the stakeholder theory of the firm, and the sustainable economy that situate climate change as an ethical issue, which requires both a social, behavioral and market response and elucidate the rationale of the benefit corporation solution. The Benefit Corporation solution calls for addressing climate change through rethinking the ideas, values and actions that are at the most fundamental level of modern American society: capitalism, and for profit business. Therefore, it is proposed that climate change is framed as an ethical issue. The dictionary of human geography defines ethics as “that part of philosophy concerned with the worthiness of human actions and of systems of belief regarding what people ought to do. Questions regarding our duties, obligations and responsibilities fall within the purview of ethics. Ethics concern not only the actions of individual people but social, economic, and political structures and arrangements that also affect human and non-‐human beings.” The framework found most appropriate in understanding the grounds for the Benefit Corporation proposal is normative ethics, and specifically utilitarianism. It is through this lens that the discussion of relevant theories, ecological agency and the stakeholder theory of the firm, are explained. The following section discusses these three theories to show how, when applied to the larger problem of climate change, the particular ethical dilemmas of climate change can be engaged through businesses. Ecological Agency Ecological Agency comes from the field of Environmental sociology which focuses on understanding and overcoming the separation between material and social systems, arguing that this dividing line in an intellectual construct that can be analytically convenient in the proper circumstances. However, the profuse reification of this illusory divide by society at large is a threat to the planet's life support systems as it creates a division of false perception of the human and non-‐ human world’s as less than complementary. The pressing importance of dispelling this illusion is that the maintenance of such a perspective threatens the wellbeing of humans and the environment. (Redclift, 2010) Presently, human beings are capable of altering the composition of the atmosphere, modifying the earth's nutrient cycles and causing major biodiversity extinctions. For the first time we are not only the agents of social change and ecosystem change at the local level but also the main agents affecting the dynamic evolution of the global environment. In the International Handbook of Environmental Sociology, Buzinde
Zahringer 3 and Navarrete (2009) conclude that this unprecedented power suggests a new agency that goes far beyond the discussion of how individuals affect social structures; this task of transcending the human-‐nature divide set by environmental sociology requires thinking in terms of a novel form of human agency -‐ecological agency. (Buzinde, Manuel-‐Navarrete, 2009, Pg. 306-‐336) Stakeholder Theory of the firm What is the purpose of the modern corporation and to whom, or what should business be responsible? (Lawrence and Weber, 2010) There are many possible answers, but whatever the answer to this question is at the heart of the relationship between business and society. In the Unites States corporate law dictates that the answer is profit maximization, as explained by the ownership theory of the firm. In the ownership theory of the firm, the firm is seen as the property of its owners and thus the purpose of the firm is to make the most amount of money it can for shareholders. Under the ownership theory of the firm, managers and boards of directors are agents of shareholders and have no obligations to others, other than those directly specified by law. (Lawrence and Weber, 2010) In this view owners’ interests are paramount and take precedence over the interests of others. Yet corporate law requiring firms to maximize financial profits has been a catalyst for human and environmental exploitation by business, owing to the fact that externalizing as many costs as possible is a time tested method for increasing the bottom line. (Chouinard et al., 2011) But over the past few decades, a new view towards the relationship between business and society has emerged called the Stakeholder Theory of the firm. Under the stakeholder theory the purpose of corporations is to serve a broad public purpose: to create value for society. (Donaldson & Preston, 1995) Still firms are for-‐profit, and must make a profit for their owners; indeed, if they did not, they would not long survive. However, corporations create many other kinds of value as well, and need to be accountable for creating value for people and the planet too, a perspective known as a triple bottom line. This theory is implemented in the solution of presented by Benefit Corporations. The stakeholder theory proposes that it is in the best interest of business also to consider all stakeholders and implement self-‐enlightened management perspective to protect and renew the global commons. Stakeholder Capitalism & the Sustainable Economy The idea of stakeholder capitalism is that upon reflection of the nature and impact of shareholder capitalism, it is concluded that this capitalist system does not seek, or oblige itself in anyway to benefit society, it’s only loyalty is to shareholders, as clearly known in the shareholder theory of the firm. Stakeholder capitalism is built upon the idea that shareholder capitalism, in light of growing environmental concern and social inequality, is obsolete. This proposition complements Hulme’s
Zahringer 4 proposal that a solution to solve climate change should include an alternative to global capitalism (Hulme, 2009). Stakeholder capitalism, and its sustainable economy, is an example of one such alternative. The feature article of the October 2011 edition of the Harvard Business Review took to task describing its Big Idea: Sustainable Economy. “Collectively we have not been making progress on reducing the damage business does to the world. Admirable companies have launched inspiring initiatives, but the negative impacts of business activity continue to grow. The problem is simple. It’s generally cheaper to buy the product that has a worse impact on its environment than the equivalent product that does less harm. Higher cost to planet does not translate to higher price to customer.” (Chouinard et al, pg.1, 2011) The sustainable economy 3.0 as it is termed, would be one where prices of products and services increased as the price of negative impact to the environment increased, and vice versa. The Sustainable Economy system would self regulate by market demand. The sustainable economy would be the economic model at the core of a stakeholder capitalism system. (Chouinard et al., 2011) The Benefit Corporation solution proposes the new type of corporation to be the vehicle for developing and the institution compromising a new sector of the economy that is built upon the framework of Stakeholder capitalism and the sustainable economy model. In a TEDx talk on December 1, 2010 Jay Gilbert, the brainchild of the Benefit Corporation movement, and founder of the nonprofit B-‐ Lab, explained to the audience, “The new sector of the economy exists in B Corporations, the manifestation of stakeholder capitalism in a new type of corporation that we can build, invest in and work for. Whether its micro finance, organics, sustainable, clean techs, to buy local...it is all the same idea, how do we use business as a tool for social change?” 2.0: Benefit Corporation Solution This details the structure and components of the how the Benefit Corporation can solve climate change. The solution presented rests upon specific assumptions on the nature of business and the environment, and the relationship between the two. Therefore it is necessary to first identify the assumptions inherent in the proposition. Assumptions: Responsibility of Business The Benefit Corporation solution proposes specific accountability of business defined in the words of David Korten, “Business has become the most powerful institution on the planet. The dominant institution in any society needs to take
Zahringer 5 responsibility for the whole. Every decision that is made, every action that is taken, must be viewed in light of that kind of responsibility” (Korten, 1996). Surveying recent history, the oil industry’s environmental disasters from Alaska to the Gulf of Mexico, the pulp and paper industry’s deforestation, or agro-‐business’ degradation of arable land, it is clear that business has long been part of the problem in the relationship between society and environment. Benefit Corporations are turning this image on its head and are proposing now, that business be a leader for the solution of environmental and social problems on the assumption that governments and nonprofits are necessary agents for change but are insufficient and thus the power of business must be used to address society's greatest challenges. (Lawrence & Weber, 2010) (Accessed from www.Benefitcorp.net) The about section of the Benefit Corporation website outlines the specific meaning of and goals of benefit corporations. There are two specific and different ways that Benefit Corporations engage with business. Each will be outlined. The first strategy is introducing Benefit Corp legislation that creates the option for legally incorporated Benefit Corporation. As specified in the publically accessible White Papers, “the Benefit corporation has three important features: 1) creates a material positive impact on society and the environment; 2) expands fiduciary duty
Zahringer 6 to require consideration of non-‐financial interests when making decisions; and 3) reports on its overall social and environmental performance using recognized third party standards.” Through this strategy Benefit Corporations aim to redefine corporate accountability. The second strategy is the B Corporation certification scheme. A “certified” B Corporation is in a sense synonymous to a certified LEED building, the process, qualifications, and terms of certification are detailed but overall the features of the Certified B Corp are: 1) Certified B Corporation must meet transparent and comprehensive standards of social and environmental performance; 2) be committed to amplifying the voice of sustainable business and for-‐profit social enterprise through the power of the unifying B Corporation brand. Through the second strategy the benefit corporation movement is influencing society by building support for businesses to be better, and consumers to be able to distinguish between green washing and marketing, and actual truth in business claims. Each of these strategies is autonomous, yet in union. Taken together, these initiatives define the overarching mechanisms and proposals of the Benefit Corporation solution. The Benefit Corporation movement is just two years old, making it quite new, and aside from blog and mainstream news coverage, there has been no rigorous academic research on the meaning, impact, or feasibility of any aspect of its operations, evaluations, or analysis. However, the system works, so to say. To date there are over 500 companies that are either certified Benefit Corporation, or incorporated as a Benefit Corporation. Twelve U.S. states have passed legislation, and many are in the process, (Benefit Corp. Website). But the question remains, how does the Benefit Corporation stand as a solution to climate change? 3.0: Strengths and Weaknesses Strengths Overall the strength of the Benefit Corporation as a solution for solving climate change is that it is in that it goes ‘beyond climate change’ (Hulme, 2009, pg. 361). In the concluding thoughts of ‘Why We Disagree About Climate Change’ Hulme (2009, pg. 361-‐362) writes, “The idea of climate change should be used to rethink and renegotiate our wider social goals about how and why we live on this planet. We need to harness climate change to give new expression to some of the irreducible and intrinsic human values that are too easily crowded out…We need to use climate change to rethink how we take forward our political, social and economic systems.” Climate change is dynamic and complex, and if nothing else represents in the most simple terms an imbalance.
Zahringer 7 The strength, then, of the Benefit Corporation solution is that it calls for a further evolution of systems, and an inclusion of new ways of thinking and acting, and organizes a road map for change that is reasonable, accessible, and feasible. It is logical and proposes rewarding practices that are, well, worthy of reward, such as creating measurable benefits for people and the planet. It creates a standard of practice that can catalyze investment and support for better ways of doing business across industries: manufacturing, production, retail and services, for example. However, whether it can “solve” climate change, or whether it will gain enough support to be of significance is another question all together. Weaknesses The weaknesses of the Benefit Corporation solution for solving climate change are that it is highly unlikely that the most concentrated and influential power of business, which is held by multi-‐national corporations and oil companies, will be a force for good, or would take the task of reincorporating to a triple bottom line. In addition, the lower returns will most likely stall or cripple true large-‐scale investments because the financial industry and financial reporting is in its own nature short term oriented. Summary Introducing new legislation and expanding the legal protection of business that choose to commit to a triple bottom line may very well be what makes the Benefit Corporation proposal a viable solution for climate change. All in all, the breadth of meaning developed and effect in action from the people behind the conception of the Benefit corporation movement is admirable in the least. It is suggested that further research is needed, even if only to bring the subject and ideas the benefit corporation proposes into current discussions. All in all in content the solution proposed by the benefit corporation is a strong one for solving climate change, if it is to be ‘solved.’ However, in practice, it is unsure whether the ideals and motives will survive the test of time.
Zahringer 8 References 2012 Draft U.S. Greenhouse Gas Inventory Report | Climate Change -‐ Greenhouse Gas Emissions | U.S. EPA. (n.d.). Retrieved April 11, 2012, from http://epa.gov/climatechange/emissions/ usinventoryreport.html Archibald, T. (2007) A New Kind of Company. Inc 29.7: 23-‐24. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Climate Change: Causes. (n.d.). Retrieved April 16, 2012, from http://climate.nasa.gov/causes/ Demeritt, D., Liverman, D., & Hulme, M. (2011). Book review symposium: Hulme M (2009) Why We Disagree about Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction, and Opportunity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 432 pp. Progress in Human Geography, 35(1), 132–138. doi: 10.1177/0309132510374272 David, B. and Husted, B.W. (2006) Corporate social responsibility in the multinational enterprise: strategic and institutional approaches. Journal of International Business Studies 37.6: 838-‐849. Faaij, A., Van Ree, R., Waldheim, L., Olsson, E., Oudhuis, A., Van Wijk, A., Daey-‐ Ouwens, C., et al. (1997). Gasification of biomass wastes and residues for electricity production. Biomass and Bioenergy, 12 (6), 387–407. Figge, F., and Tobias H. (2005) "The Cost of Sustainability Capital and the Creation of Sustainable Value by Companies. Journal of Industrial Ecology 9.4: 47-‐58. Foran, J. (2010). Sexual Politics in Modern Iran. Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 39(1), 15–16. doi:10.1177/0094306109356659 Goldemberg, J., Lovins, A. B., Schneider, S., & Swaminathan, M. S. (2007). What can we do? Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 63(1), 47–48. doi:10.2968/063001015 Gulledge, J., Victor, D. G., & Hefner III, R. A. (2008). climate change risks in the context of Scientific uncertainty. The Global Politics of Energy, 124. Hepburn, C. (2010a). Environmental policy, government, and the market. Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 26(2), 117–136. doi:10.1093/oxrep/grq016 Herro, A. (2008) New Certification Scheme Aims to Protect Socially Responsible Companies. World Watch 21.2: 5. Hulme, M., & Turnpenny, J. (2004). Understanding and managing climate change: the UK experience. The Geographical Journal, 170(2), 105–115. Jasanoff, S. andWynne, B., (1998) ‘Science and decisionmaking’ in Rayner, S. and Malone, E.L. (eds.), Human Choices and Climate Change. Columbus: Batelle, 1-‐80. Kamminga, M. (2008). The ethics of climate politics: four modes of moral discourse. Environmental Politics, 17(4), 673–692. doi:10.1080/09644010802193799
Zahringer 9 McNall, S. G. (2010). Rapid Climate Change: What Is to Be Done? Contemporary Sociology: A Journal of Reviews, 39(4), 406–411. doi:10.1177/0094306110373236c Rehdanz, K., & Maddison, D. (2005). Climate and happiness. Ecological Economics, 52(1), 111–125. Waddock, S., & MCINTOSH, M. (2011). Business Unusual: Corporate Responsibility in a 2.0 World*. Business and Society Review, 116(3), 303–330. Wapner, P., & Willoughby, J. (2005). The irony of environmentalism: The ecological futility but political necessity of lifestyle change. Ethics & International Affairs, 19(3), 77–89.
Any action on climate change confronts serious ethical issues of fairness and responsibility across individuals, nations, generations, and the rest of nature.
James Garvey - The Ethics of Climate Change: Right and Wrong in a Warming World (Think Now! (Paperback)) jetzt kaufen. ISBN: 9780826497376, Fremdsprachige ...
Climate Change Ethics: Amazon.de: Donald A. Brown: Fremdsprachige Bücher. Amazon.de Prime testen Fremdsprachige Bücher ...
Climate ethics is an area of research that focuses on the ethical dimensions of climate change (also known as global warming), and concepts such as climate ...
Opinion The Ethics of Climate Change When it comes to setting climate change policy, science can only tell us so much. Ultimately, a lead report author for ...
Lesen Sie Climate Change Ethics Navigating the Perfect Moral Storm von Donald A. Brown mit Kobo. Climate change is now the biggest challenge faced by ...
Report by the World Commission on the Ethics ... The formulation of an ethics of response to climate change will have profound implications
The Ethics of CLIMATE CHANGE hat should we do about climate change? The question is an ethical one. Science, including the science of economics, can help ...
Climate change is a change in the statistical distribution of weather patterns when that change lasts for an extended period of time (i.e., decades to ...
What should we do about climate change? The question is an ethical one. Science, including the science of economics, can help discover the causes and ...