Continuing our series on Ethics in the Workplace, Luke Andreski discusses ways you and your business can help save the environment.
We are now in the Anthropocene age of geological time: the time when humans changed everything. The surface of the Earth has been altered by farming, mining, civic infrastructure, urban sprawl. We rubber-stamp our activities through pollution, through the radioactive legacy of atomic power and human-induced acceleration of global warming. Our species has brought about the sixth extinction event, with the rate of vertebrate extinctions increasing a hundredfold over the last century.
And there’s a way to go before our full impact is clear.
We exert enormous influence and power over our environment. With this influence and power (as always, from an ethical perspective) comes responsibility. Even if you feel that the claims of climate change are exaggerated, the precautionary principle must be adopted. Our duty to future generations compels us to ask, ‘Is there any possibility whatsoever that these predictions are correct?’ And the conclusion is clear: whatever your bias, the risk cannot be totally dismissed.
Therefore, if we care about the risks for future generations, our duty is the same as if the worst of the science-based predictions were correct. We must take every necessary measure to ensure such appalling eventualities cannot come about. There is no wriggle room. Prevention must take precedence over procrastination, wishful thinking or doubt.
So what can we do as individuals?
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, we must remain hopeful. Our actions count. They may seem insignificant when it’s just us we’re looking at – but multiply what we do as individuals by the thousands, the tens of thousands, or the millions, and suddenly we are seeing dramatic, world-changing impacts.
Secondly, there are some quite simple changes we can make in our everyday lives which, when scaled up, will certainly reduce the rate of climate change, resource depletion and pollution. Here are some of the most effective:
1. Go car-free
2. Stop or reduce your travel by plane. (Electronic conferencing is the way of the future!)
3. Change to a green energy supplier or, where possible, install solar panels, heat exchangers or wind turbines
4. Adopt a plant based diet
5. If you need to own a car:
6. Don’t burn anything. Stop using open fires or wood burning stoves
7. Retain, re-use and recycle.
Even small individual changes can contribute to the sustainability of our world
The actions available to us in our workplace will be constrained by the nature of our work and the willingness of our colleagues and employers to accept the importance of change. This said, the observations above and the moral objectives outlined in the first article in this series show that we have a moral duty to campaign for sustainability. We should therefore begin by encouraging colleagues to take the individual measures outlined above, for example through:
More specific suggestions for greening our workplaces might be:
Given the inertia of human society and the vast environmental impacts already taking place it would be easy to be despondent. It is therefore crucial to emphasise how capable we are as a species when we work together and cooperate. I’ve noted this before in this series. In just the last hundred years or so our achievements have been astounding. To name but a few:
As a species we have shown ourselves capable of marvels – and business has played a key role in this.
Business, finance and industrial and commercial institutions of all kinds now need to play an equally critical role in our transition to a sustainable world.
Here are some suggestions for how we might meet this challenge:
A common response to detailed proposals such as these is defeatism. Another is denial. I’ve answered the issue of denial above. You may question the degree of human-induced global warming, or that it is caused by humans, but you cannot prove there is no risk. Should the risk outcome (however unlikely) occur, then the impact will be considerable. Even if we’re talking low risk, we’re nevertheless talking potentially species-threatening impact… so the pragmatic and moral position must be to seek to reduce that risk as far as humanly possible.
As for defeatism (e.g. ‘Look at China or India! Their actions will far outweigh ours! So what’s the point?’), here are three answers:
Lastly, and on a purely self-interested basis, it is worth noting that many of the measures outlined above will actually generate cost savings for businesses, in addition to enhancing their standing in society as a whole. Furthermore, doing nothing may eventually prove to be, even for business, the most expensive option of all.
What is the role of HR professionals and teams in all of this? To do what they do best. To facilitate professionalism and integrity throughout any changes made by the businesses they serve; to lead by example; and to seek imaginative and practical ways for our businesses to assist in transitioning to a sustainable world.
In my next article I discuss whistleblowing and other ethical challenges, and ask, ‘Is transparency beneficial or detrimental to organisational well-being?’
Read more articles on our Phase 3 Insights page
About the Author:
Luke Andreski is a writer with over thirty years’ experience in the IT industry, specialising in People Technology implementation projects and change management. More recently he has focused on moral philosophy and psychology, with a particular interest in business leadership and management ethics.He is currently working in conjunction with Phase 3 on a series of articles investigating Ethics in the Workplace.