Centre for Sustainable Development Studies (CSDS)

Make Climate Your Business

What Should we Strive For?

9 March 2017

Climate change is causing many negative impacts to occur across the globe. In light of this, environmental jurisdiction, as well as international and national commitments, have attempted to develop mitigation and adaptation strategies. Though, with the involvement of non-governmental organizations, we ask, what is the role of the private sector?

Climate change has negatively impacted natural and human systems worldwide over the past decades, and it is likely to do so increasingly in the future. Environmental jurisdiction has evolved remarkably and accordingly over the years, promoting efforts for mitigating and adapting to inevitable climate change-related effects. However, a growing number of scholars argue that environmental jurisdiction, in addition to national and international commitments, does not ensure sufficient efforts on the ground. At the same time, the role of non-state actors in favoring the elaboration and implementation of environmentally sustainable initiatives is highlighted, as well as the role of the private sector.

Lack of climate concern, monitoring, incentives, infrastructure, or technical knowledge can significantly hinder the implementation of environmental commitments. However, businesses involved in environmental action, whether individually or in partnership with the public sector or civil society, can do their part to promote environmentally friendly attitudes and extend environmental action beyond the traditional juridical regime.

The participation of businesses in the environmental policy process is challenging preconceived understandings of traditional global climate governance. The positive outcomes of business involvement in environmental actions can be remarkable. They exert tremendous spending power, as well as offer the means and goods to help achieve national and international environmental commitments while fostering environmental consciousness in their communities and nations, and integrating centralized climate governance through innovative networks. The success of certain such initiatives in some contexts suggests that each sector and level of governance can enable the others to contribute to moving towards a safer and more durable environment.

Businesses have a vested interest in getting involved in environmental governance. As environmental-related risks grow due to climate change, businesses individuating and promoting activities for mitigation can increase their turnover and supply chain security and profitability. In addition, by engaging in climate action with the public sector or with civil society, businesses can gain resources and moral and political support and influence.

However, this is only one side of the coin. The real interest in businesses’ engagement in environmental action arguably lies in the wider debate that surrounds the purpose of our economic system. On a global scale, the private sector provides goods to society which are inevitably linked to the destruction of natural resources and raw materials. The way in which production arises from destruction is constantly concealed in advertisements and in consumer culture fueled by that same private sector. However, according to an increasing number of scientific reports, the link between consumption and destruction is very clear, which highlights the real footprint of our economy on our shared environment. In particular, the richest world economies are considered largely responsible. Global Environmental Change (2012) estimates that, with every doubling of income, a country needs a third more land and ocean in order to support its economy’s demand, because of the rise in consumption of its natural resources.

In order to maintain their economic growth and lifestyle, wealthy countries finance land and resource grabbing in less affluent ones, while at the same time wasting, for instance, one-third of globally produced food annually. The wider debate that arises from the economy’s engagement in environmental conservation has to do, then, with broader issues of economic growth, the role of consumption and income in society, and persistent social, political, and economic inequalities that underpin these patterns of unequal access to natural resources, human rights, and a stable and healthy environment. All of these link with sensitive conflicts of interests, power imbalances, and established ideas of society, identity, and values.

The engagement of businesses with climate protection can take on many forms and is not always straightforward. Because of this, it is important that proper regulations, monitoring, and evaluation are implemented before businesses become involved. If not, the chance for long lasting and socially just change could be lost, and we might perpetuate the same social, economic and environmental exploitations and inequalities as before through a form of  “greening capitalism”.

Businesses can be influenced by the consumers’ will. Their behavior concerns us all as global citizens in a networked economy, and as the consequences of our purchases are more and more evident, a discussion should be undertaken about the role of businesses, the economy, and consumption in the light of its complexity. Is it possible to consume more while destroying less? If not, is it fair? Who gets less? What should the priorities be in terms of our way of living and shaping the world?  What should we strive for?


Written by CSDS Intern Adele Ghiselli



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Published by  AISSR