by Rylan Vanacore | published Mar. 3rd, 2022
When it comes to the topic of environmental issues such as climate change and waste production, it is easy to point the blame at faceless corporations. However, there is a possibility that we might also play a role in this.
There is no denying that big corporations have greatly impacted our environment. A major unpublished study by the U.N. that was released by The Guardian shows that big public companies cause up to $2.2 trillion worth of damage to the environment yearly.
Amazon’s 2020 annual sustainability report showed that the company alone produces up to 60.64 million metric tons of carbon dioxide.
Despite the damage caused by some of these corporations, there is a lack of accountability for their actions.
Enid Cardinal, the senior advisor to the President for Strategic Planning and Sustainability at RIT, weighed in on this.
“Obviously [with companies], there is absolutely a lack of accountability,” Cardinal stated. “The fossil fuel sector, in general, has tried to undermine scientific findings around climate change for decades at this point in time.”“Obviously [with companies], there is absolutely a lack of accountability,” Cardinal stated. “The fossil fuel sector, in general, has tried to undermine scientific findings around climate change for decades at this point in time.”
Many gas and oil companies have had a disastrous impact on the environment. One example is the 2010 Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico that killed 1 million sea birds, 5,000 marine mammals and 1,000 sea turtles.
While it’s easy to point out the problems big corporations cause, there are also steps that they are taking towards environmental stability.
“[Amazon], from an energy perspective, have been very aggressively working towards reducing their carbon footprint,” Cardinal explained. “They are heavily investing in renewable energy to try and address the carbon footprint of their data center operations.”
While companies like Amazon are trying to become more environmentally sustainable, with the investment in renewable energy and offering renewable packaging, they still have a long way to go.
One of the challenges to making corporations more sustainable is corporations more sustainable is the complexity of the environmental crisis. While some companies take a step forward they also take a step back.
Amazon may have options for renewable packaging, but they still cause lots of pollution with their delivery service and how many cars they have out on the road.
The problem inside corporations is the lack of care from people in leadership positions. If they aren’t advocating for changes, there isn’t a way that they can be made.
Neha Sood, the assistant director for Campus Sustainability at RIT, pointed out that not all corporations are “the bad guy” when it comes to environmental sustainability.
“A good example of companies that do [environmental sustainability] are B Corps, or benefit corporations.,” Sood said.
B Corps are companies that are given a certificate for the highest standard in social and environmental performance. Unilever and Danone are certified B Corps.
“Companies like Patagonia, which is a B Corp, have taken out ads in The New York Times [to say] don't buy our stuff, [instead], resell it or reuse,” Cardinal explained.
While many corporations are causing harm to the ecosystem, there are others, like Patagonia, that are really pushing for change that is beneficial to our environment.
How We Play a Role
When it comes to talking about environmental issues, we often do not acknowledge ways we contribute.
Most people have heard how it is important to recycle and not litter, or maybe someone has told you not to use a plastic straw because it harms turtles.
The way we spend money has rippling effects on the environment.
From a business standpoint, there isn’t much of a reason for big corporations to care about the environment. Most consumers are still buying less environmentally sustainable items and supporting corporations that contribute to climate change. Studies have shown that only 37 percent of consumers are willing to pay 5 percent more for environmentally friendly products.
Since the demand for eco the demand for eco-friendly products isn’t high, there’s not an incentive to make them the forefront of retail.
“Part of [environmental sustainability] is needing an educated consumer base to try and drive some of that change,” Cardinal said.
“Part of [environmental sustainability] is needing an educated consumer base to try and drive some of that change."
By continuing to support companies and products that harm the environment, this enables environmental destruction. If given the opportunity, we should be more conscious of what we buy. There are also opportunities for us to substitute and make our own products.
“Many of the products that we use, personal care products, we could make ourselves — you could DIY shampoo,” Sood stated. “[Shampoo] was created to generate money, it's actually something you can substitute very easily at home with vinegar.”
The reason people don't supplement shampoo is that they either do not know how, or have misconceptions about it.
"People are used to this idea, if there's no lather, then [shampoo] is not cleaning your hair," Sood said. "But the reality is that lathers produced by components that are harmful to the health of your hair, for the planet, everything."
Finding a Solution
Playing the blame game won’t solve any problems. We need more communication between corporations and consumers.
We need to voice what is best for the environment and spread the message to companies, whether it is voting with our dollar or protesting oil sites.
It is also worth noting that there are people who want to live a more sustainable lifestyle, or avoid supporting companies who harm the environment, but run into road blocks.
Lily Ready, a second year Game Development and Design major at RIT, talked about her struggles not wanting to support Amazon.
“I try not to support Amazon but I have to shop there because of items only they have,” she stated. “Like my laptop charger broke and I really need it. It's only sold on Amazon.”
In addition, environmentally friendly products are significantly more expensive and some people may not be able to afford them.
A solution to this problem would be for companies to drop prices on environmentally friendly products as well as produce more of them. This way consumers and companies are both able to help the environment.
“Consumers [can help make change], corporations can drive change, there's so many ways that change can happen,” Sood said.
“Consumers [can help make change], corporations can drive change, there's so many ways that change can happen.”