Last Friday, we had another guest lecture on sustainability. This time it was more about the “why?”. Why should companies be sustainable? Is it the way to a better future? Is it profitable in the long-term run? Is it to be accepted by society? Is it a moral obligation?
For Renzo, this last question was one of the main points of the lecture.
We were asked to split into groups and reflect upon the following question: What is your view on the relationship between business and society?
And we were offered three possible points of view:
- I think business has a moral obligation to contribute to sustainable development.
- I think sustainability should be seen as a potential profit driver for business.
- I think business should engage in sustainability to be accepted by society.
In my opinion, if a company wants to contribute to sustainable development, then it should be because they feel this is the right thing to do. If you were to say that potential profit should be the main drive for sustainable development, I would say that that’s not a very stable drive. The moment sustainable development isn’t profitable anymore, companies would just cease to contribute to it.
I don’t mean that money/profit should be out of the picture. On the contrary, companies should strive for profit (or value). If the company keeps losing money, it doesn’t matter if they’re contributing to sustainable development. They’d go bankrupt before you know it.
What I do mean is that contributing to sustainable development should be felt as a moral obligation. If it’s inherent in the company culture, and if this culture is felt strongly in the company, then I believe a company has a stable basis for contributing to sustainable development. If you don’t believe in something, then you simply shouldn’t do it.
I actually agree with Renzo. Although we have quite a different understanding on what is meant under those words, our general view on the problem is the same. I prefer to not operate with such terms as ‘moral obligation’, but what Renzo covers with them is unquestionable.
In my small group of three people understanding of each other’s points of view and agreement came along very quickly. Firstly, we all came to the conclusion that all the three points of view are complement and simply cannot exist without each other. We then discovered that points 1 and 3 are really close and the distinction between them is not that clear. We also questioned the definition of moral obligation. As for the potential profits, we assumed that sustainable development has a potential to bring profits in the future but as for now, it is rather loss making. There are a few points worth further reflection.
To me personally, assigning something as a moral obligation to whoever is ridiculous, because the definition of moral obligation cannot be aligned with every single individual’s standards. One man’s moral obligation is often another man’s (well, mostly woman’s) source of frustration, and vice versa. Thus, when choosing the better alternative for an answer, I crossed out this one straight away. Yes, I do not believe in the objectivity of moral obligations and thus see no sense in this statement.
After having discussed the cons and pros for the second statement with my peers, I crossed that one out as well.
So, my choice fell upon number three. Not because I completely agree with it, but because it just makes more sense than the other two. I do believe that in order to survive in the future the businesses have to adapt to the changing environment. And in terms of modern society changing environment is also about changing standards, in all spheres of our lives. The environmental awareness among the global population is growing, people get to know what sustainability is and why it cannot be ignored. Very soon, all the businesses will be required to comply with new sustainability standards, or they will have to close down.
Public opinion of course has a big impact on your business. It has an impact on the public image of companies and on policy-making (policies companies have to abide by). Still, I believe a company should choose its own identity. Your company’s identity shouldn’t depend on external factors, such as acceptance by society. You shouldn’t do something simply because someone else tells you to do this. If I would do this, I’d be a vegan doing nothing but crossfit. Of course this is a little more complex if you’re a company and your revenue depends on people buying your stuff or services. But the bottomline remains the same.
This is all a very black and white explanation. In reality, the choice to do something, to be more sustainable or not, will depend on a lot of factors. All of the aspects above have an impact on decision-making. But when it comes to doing things a certain way (e.g. sustainably), isn’t it best to do what you inherently believe in?
The last thing we did during the class was watching a video: space, Earth, moon, shuttles, Apollo… 18 minutes of fascinating pictures of our beautiful planet.
We argue about borders, we make complicated strategies to ‘own’ territories, economies and people, we destroy what we have and get pride in it by calling ourselves ‘progressive’. Yet, when looking at our planet from space… it doesn’t matter. None of it. Politics, economies, wars, borders, enterprises and households.. you don’t see it from there.
What you do see – is a beautiful sphere, very fragile and mysterious. Maybe it is this mystery that makes people go crazy. We don’t like uncertainty and we don’t know anything about our home. We are only here by a happy coincidence. One wrong move and we’re all gone. Forever.
According to one of the countless sources, before Jesus was crucified, he stood before Pontius Pilate and was asked to swear on his life whether he committed the crimes he had been accused of. The dialogue between the two of them has been described by Mikhail Bulgakov in his novel:
– «What would you have me swear by?
– Well, by your life. It is high time to swear by it because you should know that it is hanging by a thread.
– You do not believe, do you, hegemon, that it is you who have strung it up? If you do you are mistaken.
– I can cut that thread.
– You are mistaken there too. You must agree, I think, that the thread can only be cut by the one who has suspended it?”
We don’t know who “strung” our planet up in space. And we are not able to control it. Maybe this is why we are all just a bunch of freaks who need to exercise their power to prove to themselves that we are safe.
This article is co-written with Julia Ivanishcheva. She also wrote the last part about the video (credit where credit is due).