What is Environmental Corporate Responsibility?

Jeany Miller

Environmental corporate responsibility, in which a company seeks to reduce its operating impacts on the land, is often considered a portion of total corporate social responsibility. In addition to government pressure that regulates many business practices, corporations today often take voluntary measures to account for and mitigate environmental influences. Green practices, for example, may include selling non-toxic products, reducing air emissions and minimizing water pollutants. Environmental responsibility may also be evidenced in charity work, staff training, volunteer efforts and eco-labels. The surge in such practices is likely driven by both economic and political factors.

Coca-Cola shows environmental corporate responsibility by partnering with the Ocean Conservancy.
Coca-Cola shows environmental corporate responsibility by partnering with the Ocean Conservancy.

A business operating in today’s competitive marketplace often wants to be perceived as ethical and responsible. Not only do customers often expect such behavior, but government regulations may demand it as well. Corporate social responsibility (CSR), often defined as a form of self-regulation integrated into a business model, is one axis of this practice. CSR policy, therefore, often monitors a business to ensure it meets legal and ethical standards relative to its practices and the community. Such policy may also promote public interest with community development and voluntary elimination of harmful practices.

Environmental corporate responsibility can include a day in which employees pick up litter from parks and other areas.
Environmental corporate responsibility can include a day in which employees pick up litter from parks and other areas.

In addition to monitoring its community influences, an ethical corporation often measures and reduces its environmental impacts as well. Government pressure usually improves business practices with public initiatives and laws, such as the increased road tax for higher-emission vehicles in the United Kingdom. Even without such regulations, however, mounting environmental corporate responsibility is visible in many industry sectors. Toyota and Bank of America, for example, have buildings that are Gold-certified by the United States Building Council, Dell Computers allows customers to buy carbon offsets when they purchase new computers and British retailer Marks and Spencer plans to make all of its British and Irish operations carbon neutral by 2012.

The basic principle of environmental corporate responsibility is to hold a company accountable for its impact on the world around it. Such accountability may mean that companies incorporate into their own operations solutions for environmental problems. An automobile manufacturer, for example, often releases toxins into the air that are largely borne by surrounding citizens and businesses. To reflect its corporate conscience, the manufacturer may begin using more earth-friendly production materials or identify new processes that emit fewer pollutants. Such practices have evolved into what is known as green corporate responsibility, in which some companies produce and sell non-toxic products, reduce industry-related air emissions and implement processes to minimize water pollutants.

A commitment to mitigate the ways in which operations affect the planet is often a measure of a company’s social performance. In some instances, that commitment manifests itself in the form of charity work within a community. To illustrate, Coco-Cola partners with Ocean Conservancy to sponsor the annual one-day event of International Coastal Cleanup. This increases awareness of marine litter and helps remove trash from worldwide beaches and waterways. Such a display of environmental corporate responsibility often provides a company with a positive social image.

To this end, many companies also teach staff members about the issues of environmental responsibility. Hazardous waste management, for example, is often a component of training in many manufacturing and engineering facilities. In some countries, proper waste handling and disposal is strictly regulated, and industrial companies must routinely follow local and national guidelines.

Some companies further promote the idea of environmental corporate responsibility by encouraging employees to recycle paper and aluminum products. Still other firms sponsor community clean-up days, whereby employees actively remove litter from roadsides, parks and downtown areas. Eco-labels provide another way in which corporations voluntarily attempt to communicate sustainability efforts with the public. These labels generally indicate a product’s overall environmental impacts or identify it as having passed local or national environmental standards. Such industries as those of home appliances, forestry products and organic foods often use eco-labeling.

Numerous applications for and explanations of environmental corporate responsibility can be provided. Some economists regard pollution as symptomatic of broader production inefficiencies. Thus, pollution reduction and cost savings may go hand-in-hand to generate greater profits. Other forces, including market responses by consumers seeking green products and services as well as such political steps as regulatory threats, may also be the drivers behind increasing CSR.

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