Freeman (Business/Univ. of Virginia), Pierce (Medicine/Univ. of Nebraska), and business consultant Dodd argue that US business must not content itself with meeting environmental standards mandated by the state: it must instead assume a leadership role in the struggle for conservation.
Progressive environmental practices are more than just a question of ethics, suggest the authors—they make for long-term profits. By melding business needs with environmental concerns and a principled stance, companies tap into employees’ innovative capacities: they thus have something at stake (namely, the world their children will live in) other than employer profits, and will be motivated to exceed standards. Such a business needn’t espouse deep ecology (though it could do that, too, as Patagonia has): it could assume a green image as it meets the market’s demands for better and cheaper products, or it could mirror the environmental preferences of its stakeholders. It might simply trumpet it abroad that it meets government standards—there are many shades of green, after all. How to get started? Probably not with the painfully superficial outline of contemporary environmental thought that Freeman, Pierce, and Dodd rather unhelpfully provide. Their strong suit is a clear ethical framework (read: we are responsible for our actions and our actions have environmental effects), yet their defense of capitalism’s decency and promise rings hollow: “If firm A invents a product or improves a product firm B depends on, firm B is not destroyed; rather, it creates yet another innovation.” This has an unsatisfying sound. Ultimately, we are told, “taking action to ensure a future for our children is up to each of us as individuals. Without individual commitment and concern, societal institutions will always provide too little, too late.” In a sense this puts us back to square one.
Can American business assume a green mantle? Yes, assure Freeman, Pierce, and Dodd. Will they? Not until enough individuals demand it.