By Jane Marsh
Throughout the decades, the global economy has shown little regard for its environmental impact. However, businesses across all industries are now facing a reckoning. Amid increasing climate change, the calls for greater economic sustainability are coming in loud and clear — about 85% of consumers have modified their buying habits, opting for greener purchases. Another 34% are willing to pay a premium for eco-friendly goods and services.
To meet demand, brands have had to modify their operations and manufacturing processes to protect the planet. For some, the transition has been a struggle. Nevertheless, ignoring consumer pressures is a terrible business practice — adhering to eco-friendliness is essential if they hope to survive.
Of course, whether companies will ever do enough to protect the planet is the question. Here’s a closer look at how our economy has wasted our most precious resources and what companies can do to improve their sustainability.
How Companies Impact the Environment
Researchers have theorized and observed that when people gain access to a public resource — such as water, air and habitable land — they consume it based on personal needs, regardless of how its depletion hurts the planet.
This short-term overconsumption of resources can have dire impacts on the public and the environment. Here are four examples.
1. Aquifer Depletion From Agriculture
Humans require clean groundwater for safe drinking to survive. However, human activities have contaminated and depleted groundwater resources at a rapid pace. In 2015, over half of the 30% of groundwater withdrawals were used and overconsumed for irrigation in the agricultural sector.
2. Food Insecurity From Environmental Degradation
Over 1.7 million acres of arable land were used for crops in 2016. However, poor farming operations — such as overuse of chemical fertilizers and monocropping — amid a steady rise in food demand have rendered fields unusable for future yields. This places our food system and the ability to feed the world at risk. Not even the 15,000 food pantries across the country will be able to resolve the food crisis if we can no longer grow food.
3. Endangered Wildlife From Coffee Consumption
Is it impossible to get through the day without three cups of coffee in the morning? Our overconsumption of goods has degraded habitats for much of the planet’s wildlife. For example, the international trade of coffee, tea and tobacco accounts for 70% of the extinction risk for endangered species.
4. Reduced Air Quality From Traffic
Commerce, traffic congestion and human activities have also affected air quality — one of the common natural resources shared by everyone. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 7 million people die prematurely from air pollution annually.
Holding Companies Accountable
In 2017, the CDP released the Carbon Majors Report, indicating that only 100 fossil fuel companies were responsible for 71% of the total global emissions since 1988.
Since then, many companies have begun analyzing their environmental degradation in the name of manufacturing and revenue, from making net-zero pledges to transitioning toward recyclable packaging alternatives to reduce waste.
However, 58% of companies admit they’ve overstated their progress. Despite their pledges, a recent NewClimate Institute report found that 25 major corporations were meeting only 40% of net-zero emissions — only three companies were genuinely committed to reducing 90% of their emissions by the target year.
Are companies doing enough to protect the planet? Not quite, but there is room for improvement. For instance, companies can implement the following measures:
- Create a carbon footprint assessment to understand where they generate the most emissions.
- Reduce waste by creating an end-use protocol and ramping up recycling.
- Improve energy efficiency throughout operations and within office buildings.
- Encourage employees and supply chain vendors to adopt eco-friendly behaviors.
- Invest in carbon offsetting programs that address degraded land, water contamination and air pollution.
These measurable initiatives enable a clearer picture of a business’s sustainability. Of course, transparency is critical and companies should avoid greenwashing their efforts at all costs.
Corporate Responsibility the Key to Protecting the Planet
Businesses have come to understand the value of sustainability for their bottom line. In addition to consumer demand, companies more frequently face mandatory emissions disclosures, subsequent fees and arrests for pollution. At the end of the day, protecting the planet and our common goods are in companies’ best interest.
This post was previously published on emagazine.com.
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