by Zoe Zorka

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Image Credit: Unsplash

If you look at the news on any given day, you will see a series of environmental disasters. From oil spills to waste plastic polluting the ocean, we are putting our planet at serious risk. And yet, despite the panic-inducing headlines and depressing analysis, we seem to have reached a state of inertia when it comes to actually dealing with the problem.

One of the main reasons that we are struggling to deal with waste and environmental pollution is that it is such a big problem with a multitude of causes. We are all responsible for a tiny proportion of an issue that literally takes shape on a global scale so it is difficult to see how our own minute involvement could lead to such a catastrophe.

So which meaningful steps can we take to clean up the planet?

Well, the first one is obvious. Big businesses are largely responsible for the pollution happening around the world. From oil companies to the biggest players in the fashion industry, big businesses are responsible for water pollution, poor waste management and air pollution amongst other things.

It is clear that though consumers should be taking some responsibility, they are still trapped into making bad choices simply because the alternatives aren’t yet economically feasible. Individual action is laudable but it is not going to have the same impact as big businesses changing their ways for the better.

Ethical Economics

In most businesses, the first and most important priority is to make a profit. This means that no matter what the business does, as long as it makes money, the directors are happy.

While this might be a great way to make money on the quick, it’s not the most ethical approach. An ethical company would still want to make a profit but that it would also take other aspects into consideration such as where materials are sourced from, what sort of energy they are using or how their operations might affect the environment.

An ethical company won’t just shrug and say oops at an oil spill, they will look into clean-up options and figure out the fastest way to deal with the situation (and you can see for more ideas).

Only when companies understand their impact can they begin to make changes. Understanding that a product or process may not be the most environmentally-friendly is the first step to working out what could be better. And the reality is that consumers are willing to pay more for that kind of consideration anyway.

66% of global are willing to pay more for sustainable products, a number that rises to 73% amongst millennials. This is remarkable because even though millennials are coming of age in economically challenging times, the ethical impact of a product is clearly a greater priority to them than saving money.

However cynical it might sound, businesses that are most concerned with profits and growth should be looking at their sustainability much more. Even if a company is only interested in the bottom line, it must consider its ethical stance.

Consumer Pressure

Though one consumer switching from regular loo roll to loo roll made using recycled paper may not make much of a difference, consumers do hold a lot of cards when it comes to pressuring brands to change. The spending power of any group of people can speak loudly.

When consumers campaign for brands to change, it is in the brand’s interest to do so to their best ability. Any reasonable suggestion should be taken on and, if successful, will also give the brand some bragging rights if it’s competitors fail to change. Furthermore, those shamed competitors will have a strong motive for catching up and even surpassing expectations creating a nice momentum within the industry.

As more and more consumers campaign for change, more and more companies are looking at their business models and cleaning up their act. However, this method is proving to be slow and so world governments must also start acting like consumers. In the summer of 2018, Ireland showed the world how this could be done by divesting €300 million worth of shares in oil, peat and gas. This is a great step forward and other governments are already considering similar action.

Setting an Example

When businesses are asked to change their ways, they always want to know what could be in it for them. If being ethical isn’t one of their directors - or consumers - priorities, they haven’t got much reason to do anything at all. But what about setting an example?

Any business can do more to help the environment and many big businesses show that you don’t have to say goodbye to healthy profits in order to do so. In many cases, finding a more efficient way to do something isn’t just more environmentally friendly, it’s also cheaper. And, when a business pioneers a new approach like this, it can set an example for other businesses.

Just as consumer pressure on one business can affect every other business in the industry, if one key business player makes a crucial move towards environment and sustainability, it would be ridiculous for the rest of the industry to ignore it. Consumers might form a catalyst for change but when a business chooses a new route by choice, it is a great indicator to the market that they are willing to put the needs of others first.

As a global population, it’s fair to say that people are getting more and more frustrated by the greed of big businesses. We can see the problems caused by a market that doesn’t care about waste or sustainability and we all want change. While existing businesses may be slow to grasp this at the moment, new businesses are springing up all the time to fill this growing gap in the market.

It’s time for big businesses to clean up their act. Because if they don’t, they won’t be in business for very much longer.