Following the completion of a degree in Environmental Sustainability, I believed that the fundamental role of businesses was to drive profit maximisation, rather than act within the ecological boundaries of Earth’s ecosystem. The notion that the “social responsibility of businesses is to increase profits” was emphasised during lectures on the business case for sustainability (Friedman, 1970, pp. 6). However, my perception was altered when introduced to examples of ecologically sustainable organisations (ESOs). This allowed me to understand that there are corporations adopting transformative change worldwide and reassured me that there is still hope for environmental sustainability.
Reflecting on the course, I found the group discussions in final lecture most influential for changing my opinion on the role of businesses. Here, I found that ESOs can exist and flourish whilst acting within Earth’s planetary boundaries. Enterprises such as Fairphone prioritize climate change in the business case as it allows the organisation to progress towards environmental sustainability and demonstrate innovation (Wernink and Strahl, 2015). Nonetheless, as ESOs still consume natural resources faster than their rate of replacement, it allows us to question whether businesses can be truly ecologically sustainable (Starik and Rands, 1995).
In this case, Wright and Nyberg (2017) theory on climate change as a business opportunity becomes apparent. Although it provides a practical way for the business to move towards sustainability, it can promote ‘business as usual’ practises. Therefore, ESOs can be perceived as a double-edged sword and require further research that analyses their business cases for sustainability.
Friedman, M. 1970. The Social Responsibility of Business is to increase its profits. New York Times Magazine. [Online]. 1970(13), pp.1-6. [Accessed 4 January 2018]. Available from: http://www.umich.edu/~thecore/doc/Friedman.pdf
Starik, M. and Rands, G.P. 1995. Weaving an integrated web: Multilevel and multisystem perspectives of ecologically sustainable organizations. Academy of Management Review. 20(4), pp.908-935.
Wernink, T. and Strahl, C. 2015. "Fairphone: sustainability from the inside-out and outside-in." In: D’heur, M. ed. Sustainable Value Chain Management. Cham: Springer International Publishing, pp. 123-139.
Wright, C. and Nyberg, D. 2017. An inconvenient truth: How organizations translate climate change into business as usual. Academy of Management Journal. 60(5), pp.1633-1661.