7.4.3 Business and Industry/Industrial Ecology


7.4.3 Business and Industry/Industrial Ecology

How You Can Make Choices that Treat the Earth Well

Doing Business: As if the Earth Mattered

Does Business Care?

Energy use is a core necessity of all business. But some businesses use much more than others. Manufacturing, heavy industry (steel-making, car manufacturing, oil production and refining, cement manufacturing) all consume enormous amounts of energy to make their products. They also contribute greatly to greenhouse gas emissions.

As carbon emissions have come to be a global concern, these industries are equally concerned about being able to carry on without being penalized for their greenhouse gas emissions. How have they responded to the climate change issue?

In the early days of the “global warming” discussion, some businesses (including the oil business) set out to prove that there was no conclusive scientific evidence to make a definite link between human activity and a warming planet. They did not want government to create regulations which would make them invest in emissions-reducing measures. They opposed Canada’s signing of the Kyoto Agreement. They felt strongly that spending money to reduce carbon emissions would cause them to lose money, and their employees to lose their jobs. (If you browse the Internet, you will find many websites that claim there is no conclusive proof of climate change, that Kyoto is a dangerous agreement, and that more carbon dioxide is good for life on Earth.)

New Attitudes

Over time, however, companies even some oil companies have began to recognize that the evidence is building in favour of a human connection to the increase in CO2 in the atmosphere. They are beginning to think and more importantly, to act differently. As the world waits for Russia to ratify the Kyoto agreement, which would allow it to come into effect, and national governments negotiate targets for carbon dioxide reduction, many businesses are working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on their own initiative.

Business and Sustainable Development (SD) – Voluntarily

Business is coming to recognize the need for sustainable development. This new term was first defined in 1988 in a book called “Our Common Future,” that laid out how developed societies could live and produce the goods and services they need within a limited biosphere.

Sustainable development is “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

In other words, development is essential to satisfy human needs and improve the quality of human life. At the same time, development must be based on the efficient and environmentally responsible use of all of society’s scarce resources – natural, human, and economic.

For more details: http://www.sdinfo.gc.ca/what_is_sd/index_e.cfm

Doing business in a way that does less damage to the Earth and its natural systems is not simply an act of good-will on the part of companies. A growing number of companies are coming to see that converting their raw materials and systems to more environmentally sustainable ones offers a range of benefits, including:

  • improving competitiveness by lowering production costs
  • anticipating future regulations and market instruments
  • helping to shape government programs that take into account the interests of business
  • improving their corporate reputation

New Ways of Thinking

Several important movements have helped businesses move voluntary without government regulation towards sustainable development and reduction of greenhouse gases. Here are some examples.

The Natural Step (TNS) www.natralstep.org/gateway_business.php

Building Sustainable Societies

Human society with developed countries like Canada leading the way – is currently consuming natural resources (including non-renewable resources such as fossil fuels) and returning wastes into the Earth’s land, air and water faster than natural systems can deal with them. This means that our behaviour as a species is not environmentally sustainable. If we destroy soil, water supplies, and forests, alter the atmosphere, and cause too many species to go extinct, the Earth’s natural systems will no longer be able to provide for human needs. The biggest task of the 21st century confronting human societies, therefore, is to learn what is needed to become sustainable.

What would development – designs, manufacturing processes, transportation, energy choices, city planning, road-building, choices of consumer goods look like if it required 6 billion humans to live sustainably within the limits of Earth’s biosphere? What would sustainable development look like?

Defining Sustainability

A Swedish doctor called Karl-Henrik Robèrt, one of his country’s leading cancer researchers, consistently observed the link between environmental contaminants and human health. In 1989 he decided is was important to find a way to get past the endless debates on environmental degradation. Instead of debating, he wanted to start a process that would define what sustainability or sustainable development was. He wanted to find a way to bring about agreement on some basic, guiding principles for moving towards a sustainable society. He was looking for ways for humans to do things more like nature did.

Dr. Robert invited 50 of his scientific colleagues to see what they agreed on. He gathered round after round of ideas from all of them, and eliminated points of disagreement. He ended up with a scientific consensus, or agreement, on a set of guiding principles for a sustainable society. These principles became the basis for a program he called The Natural Step (TNS).

In terms of nature, sustainability is about the human use of natural resources in ways that they can be renewed, so that the environment’s natural qualities are maintained. The idea of sustainable development adds some other ideas to this basic concept.

Sustainable Development: What’s good for the Environment, the Economy, and Society

Sustainable development looks not only at the quality of the natural environment, but also at the well-being of economies and human societies. Sustainable development is the concept of improving the quality of life for all of the Earth’s citizens without increasing the use of natural resources beyond the capacity of the environment to supply them indefinitely. It requires understanding that not changing the way we do things has consequences and what they are. It then requires developing new ways to change institutional structures and practices, and influence individual behaviour. It requires taking action which includes changing policy and practice at all levels, from the individual to the international.

Dr. Robèrt’s Natural Step program was developed into an educational package. It was designed to help companies, governments, cities, institutions, and non-profit groups learn strategic planning methods for sustainable development. The program helps people identify their particular environmental problems. They can then ask questions, explore possible solutions and make informed decisions. Using a common set of principles that define the goals of sustainability, people al all levels of organizations can work together to reach common goals.

The Natural Step is based on systems thinking, and helps users see how decisions in one part of an operation are connected to all the other parts as well as to the world outside their organization. It provides businesses ways of making sustainable development a part of their business strategies.

Since its introduction, the Natural Step has established offices in Australia, Brazil, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada. TNS (Canada) offers educational workshops, training programs, and implementation programs. It also produces education and communication tools and services.

They can be reached at:

The Natural Step Canada
2nd Floor, 43 Eccles St.
Ottawa, ON
K1R 6S3
Phone: (613) 748-3001
Fax: (613) 748-3372
Email: info@naturalstep.ca

The Pew Center’s Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC)

Collaboration on Business and Climate Change

The US Pew Center on Global Climate Change brings together business leaders, policy makers, scientists, and other experts. They work to bring a new approach to the complex and often controversial issue of climate change. They take an approach based on sound science, straight talk, and a belief that voluntary cooperation can protect the climate while sustaining economic growth. The Pew Center analyzes and reports on climate change and business issues. It distributes its reports to more than 4,000 opinion leaders throughout the world.

The Pew Center Business Environmental Leadership Council (BELC) is a group of leading companies worldwide that are responding to the challenges posed by climate change. BELC members recognize the importance and the complexity of climate change. They choose to work together to meet this challenge voluntarily. They agree on a set of important ideas:

  • that there is enough scientific evidence about the environmental impacts of climate change to take action to address its consequences
  • that businesses in the US and other countries should 1) analyze their opportunities for emissions reductions, 2) establish and meet greenhouse gas reduction targets, 3) invest in new and more efficient products, processes and technologies
  • that companies must find ways to not only meet but improve on Kyoto targets, and involve more players world-wide in climate change solutions
  • there is a need for the adoption of reasonable policies, programs and transition strategies in order to both address climate change and sustain economic growth


(Note: There are some environmentalists who believe that continuing economic growth is not compatible with achieving enough greenhouse gas emissions reductions to stabilize the Earth’s climate.)

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

What’s Important In Business Today? – A New, Broader Vision

Businesses and corporations, sometimes reminded by members of the public, are beginning to pay attention to more than making money. They are realizing that there is a growing expectation that they act as more than isolated profit-making centres. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a vision of companies that look at their broader place in society. It asks them to consider areas of concern that include the well-being of their employees, their communities – and society in general, both now and in the future. It also asks them to look at the total effects of their operations on the natural environment and work to improve them. CSR is a way for corporations to become more responsible and accountable to their shareholders, their customers, their employees and the natural world.

What has led to this move towards Corporate Social Responsibility?

1) Public Demand As corporations have grown larger and larger, and many have become multi-national, people have begun asking them to be more open about how they operate. There is a growing demand for “corporate disclosure” from customers, suppliers, employees, communities, investors, and activist organizations.

2) Ethical Shopping In recent years, more people are using their shopping choices as a form of ethical activism. This selective shopping has helped make companies pay more attention to the factors that are important to their customers: treatment of employees (no sweatshop labour), “fair-trade” prices for commodities to the growers (to coffee, sugar, growers), and environmentally-friendly processes and content (“green products,” energy-saving products, recycled content, forest-friendly, sustainably logged paper products, etc.)

3) Less government regulation In the past corporations depended on governments for legislation and regulations about social and environmental requirements. With tax cuts and reduced government regulation in many places, corporations are increasingly taking on the voluntary role of selecting social and environmental initiatives they believe to be important as business interests.

4) Stocks and Investment More people are considering the social and environmental performances of companies when they are deciding to buy stock in their operations. One report noted that in the US in 1999 there was more than $2 trillion invested in stocks that used screens for environmental and social responsibility.

5) Green and Socially Responsible Purchasing When companies pay more attention to effects of their own performance on social and environmental outcomes, they may then ask their suppliers to do the same. Social and environmental purchasing policies set out standards for ethical companies to deal with the companies they buy from, helping the corporate responsibility attitude to spread.

The results? Companies that find CSR an important part of how they do business come out ahead. They frequently find they enjoy benefits


·to the company

  • increased sales and customer loyalty
  • greater productivity and quality
  • improved financial performance
  • lower operating costs
  • brand image and reputation

·to the community

  • charitable contributions
  • employee volunteer programs
  • corporate involvement in community education, employment and homelessness programs
  • product safety and quality

·and to the environment

  • more recycling in processes and product content
  • improvements in product design for durability and functionality
  • more use of renewable resources
  • adding environmental management tools into business plans (life-cycle assessment and costing, environmental management standards, and eco-labelling)


Business Ethics: Corporate Social Responsibility Report 2004 Including the 100 best corporate citizens for the year!

Corporate Social Responsibility: How’s it going, how to get involved? One man’s view on the international scene.

The International Institute for Sustainable Development Championing innovation, enabling societies to live sustainably.



  1. a) What does the term ‘ sustainable development’ mean?
    b) What are the benefits to businesses?
  2. a) What does the term ‘systems thinking’ mean?
    b) Why is it important to use this when considering sustainable development?
  3. Describe 3 ways that you as an individual can affect Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).