Corporate responsibility towards the environment – urgent and possible |
Corporate responsibility towards the environment – urgent and possible

Climate change is an urgent global matter. The COVID-19 pandemic is solid evidence that we need to commit to caring for the environment and those around us if we are to overcome any global crisis. As government action proves insufficient in creating the radical change that we need, companies have a unique opportunity to become true contributors to the wellbeing of all humankind. There are three reasons why corporate environmental responsibility is both urgent and possible.  

What is corporate environmental responsibility?  

Corporate Environmental Responsibility (CER), also known as “Green CSR” has been a global trend for some time. The term derives from Corporate Social Responsibility or CSR, and it refers to the duty of reducing or eliminating the negative impact that companies have on the environment. Environmental protection is, of course, as much an individual responsibility as it is a collective one, but research has proven that companies play a fundamental role in slowing down climate change. 

Businesses have a prime responsibility towards the environment. They overuse natural resources, produce toxic waste, emit CO2 and contribute to global warming. They also deplete forests, pollute rivers and intoxicate ocean ecosystems. In sum, there is an urgent need to find ways to slow down and even stop the impact companies have on the environment.   

Are all businesses a threat to the planet? Certainly not. But this does not mean those which are “innocent” are free of responsibility. It isn’t just businesses with high levels of CO2 emissions that need to start changing their practices. The good news is that, according to scholars, organizations around the world are becoming more aware of their role, and stakeholder pressure for sustainable practices is an important factor in this change.  

Studies also show that companies which apply systems and practices to maintain and improve the quality of the environment in the long run, can “gain competitive advantage.”  This is both because they can reduce costs by recycling and reusing, but also because their reputation improves among their customers, the company’s most important stakeholders.  

What are green companies doing to protect the environment? 

More and more companies are now going green! There are many inspiring examples of big and small companies around the world who are doing things right by the planet. And good actions deserve attention and celebration because they make the world feel a little brighter. So let’s shine a spotlight: 

Swiss company IKEA has an encompassing CSR initiative called People & Planet, involving specific and action plans to reach 3 ambitious goals:  

  • enabling a healthy and sustainable living for over one billion people,  
  • creating a circular business that recreates all of the resources they use and  
  • ensuring a fair an equal workspace for every person in their supply chain.  

The Climate and Energy actions they have undertaken so far have achieved astonishing results, including the use of 100% sustainable wood suppliers, which they specifically select based on their use of forestry methods that ensure renewable resources. Also, they have completely shifted to LED light bulbs, which use 85% less energy than their incandescent predecessors. Their “More for Less” philosophy also led to waste being minimized, by making production smarter. Their full sustainability strategy covers the use of cotton, water and food. The reports on all of their achievements so far can be downloaded from their webpage. Impeccable work, IKEA! 

Another great example of a green approach is UPS. Because their business is transporting goods, carbon emissions are the main concern in terms of environmental impact. For a few years, they have hired an independent auditing firm to keep track of their energy use and carbon emissions reductions. According to Harvard Business Review, UPS’ sustainability report includes, “its total CO2 emissions, the carbon emissions per mile driven by its fleet, the ground packages delivered per gallon of fuel used, and the number of miles driven by its alternative-fuel delivery vehicles.”  

More going green 

CNN Business regularly reports on the achievements of committed green businesses, in their section called Global Energy Challenge. A recommended read is their highlight on Swiss company Climeworks, who are removing CO2 from the atmosphere and storing it underground in the form of rock. Some of it is also being destined to manufacturing soda drinks by Coca-Cola Switzerland. Amazing! 

How does “going green” affect the bottom-line? 

Even if it may sound counter-intuitive, reports from UPS’ and other experiences prove that companies are obtaining financial gains from these actions. Many CER or Green initiatives have been demonstrated to have not just environmental benefits but also bottom-line benefits. Particularly in the case of UPS, they have benefited from reduced fuel use, as reported by HBR.  

Furthermore, CER does not need to involve an enormous investment. Small actions can prove very successful and rewarding when they are relevant to the context and the culture. An example of this was the forest support campaign conducted by Stillman Translations this year, after several months of large-scale wildfires affecting all of Argentina. The company organized a series of training courses for its linguists, the proceeds of which were donated to Banco de Bosques, a local non-profit committed to reforesting endangered local tree species.  

For those in managerial positions, it is important to keep in mind that there are multiple resources and networks to help turn any business model into a sustainable, purposeful and responsible company. In Latin America, Sistema B (B Corps) is an organization supporting the transformation of our economy into a “B” Economy. They believe in an economy where “business (is) a force for good” and they are growing rapidly.  

If you agree with Patagonia’s motto that “there is no business to be done on a dead planet,” be sure to reach out to other like-minded organizations out there and start going green today!