Smog, smoke, carbon monoxide and respiratory problems—they’re encroaching on the planet like an invading force, and it doesn’t feel like there’s much you can do.
In the business world, it’s generally a sign of weakness to make concessions to the environmental lobby. Just look at the antics of an entrepreneur like Donald Trump (who’s been covered in this blog before) and you’ll see that pollution isn’t important in the corporate world. At least, not if your methods make money.
Capitalism, in its most prevalent neoliberal form, loses steam without expansion and perceived progress. Simply turning a profit isn’t enough.
Expansion and environment
Consider Twitter. The social network famous for its 140-character limit is struggling on the stock market, but not because it isn’t successful. The site has around 115 million active users every month, but is still losing stock value because it hasn’t expanded in line with market expectations. That’s all it takes to start floundering.
But too often this expansion is at the expense of our environment. Offices grow bigger, the ranks of employees start to swell, and waste piles higher than the local dump.
Many of these problems happen when a company that grows rapidly successful fails to expand its safe working practices alongside bulging profit margins. You can see it in UK sportswear chain Sports Direct, which was brought to task for poor working conditions and practices that, according to owner Mike Ashley, spiraled out of control.
Poor working practices won’t, however, only affect staff. In the long run, they can alter the course of climate change.
The climate change spiral
This doesn’t only apply to major oil companies or huge conglomerates. Small and medium enterprises can have a profound impact on the ecological health of their surrounding area and, in turn, the entire world.
While the icecaps are melting because nation states have failed to agree on an overarching (and mandatory) climate change agreement, this decision is affected directly by the interests of businesses both large and small.
According to political activist and writer Naomi Klein, there’s little hope for the planet if the wheels of big business continue to turn, unfettered and out of control. And when no one cares about the environment, the continued downward spiral of climate change won’t stop.
Small business, big difference
For the average business owner, this can make it feel a lot like spitting in the wind. But SMEs aren’t entirely powerless. If they steer their company in the right direction (and ignore the threatening call of “expand or die”) they can make a substantive contribution to staying eco-friendly.
Instead of renting a larger space, few small businesses consider investing in a warehouse mezzanine floor for economy. And instead of purchasing sustainable materials to fund their business, they splash out on goods that are slightly cheaper but ecologically disastrous.
Ethical business contributors
Yet, there are plenty of larger businesses who market themselves on the basis of their eco-friendliness and ethical code.
Cosmetic manufacturer Lush (which won the 2014 Observer Ethical award) have founded a profitable empire on the foundation of ecological stability, and have maintained a loyal customer base which believes that they’re “doing their bit” by making a purchase. This is a company that proves you can be sustainable and turn a profit.
The truth is, there’s only one way the world is going to continue to thrive. Businesses have to learn that profit sometimes isn’t advantageous to them in the long term—especially, if there isn’t a planet left to make a profit on.
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