Why Businesses Cannot Be Trusted to Save the World

Izzy Oberman

Climate change has become an indisputable threat to our society. However, what remains a hotly contested subject is what action must be taken to save our planet and human life. One potential solution is to rely on companies with government aid to create impactful change; however, has this idea ever panned out in the past? Factually, there are “100 companies responsible for 71% of global emissions,” and there are easy changes to implement that can lower these companies’ emission levels. Yet, we still do not see concrete action being taken. There are some short-term economic difficulties with executing these sustainable problems, but for the majority of companies, there are extreme benefits that come with going green, such as innovative market niches, employee motivation, higher engagement, and increased efficiency. 

This ultimately leads to the conclusion that we can not trust big companies to care for the common good when it does not line up with easy, instant profits. So therefore, we must seek a more optimal approach to our climate crisis—putting it in the hands of the people. Oftentimes, the impact of the individual is overlooked and scrutinized since human beings themselves, not businesses hellbent on raising profits, typically have an easier time implementing the changes that need to be made to save our earth. We simply can not put our well-being in the hands of large conglomerates, but it is also naive to believe climate change is at such a point where small changes will rescue us. So how do we create a realistic plan that creates sustainability?

Joshua Goldstein, a professor emeritus of international relations at American University, says, “for consumers in the industrialized world to signal virtue with their individual actions is irrelevant;” yet, the theory of “behavioral contagion”—how thoughts and innovations can spread through populations like infectious diseases—disputes Goldstein’s common misinterpretation. When studied, we see how truly dynamic and pertinent individual action is in solving climate change. Yes, we still need large companies to change their ways, but individual action is the first step towards progress. Individuals have the power to educate and influence the people around them. Also, as people promote their ideologies and actions, they change the common culture, which encourages comprehensive policy changes that will improve the way the world and large companies who strive for public approval approach climate change. In order for policy change, we must start with individual change because companies will only listen when their targeted trajectory is disrupted. 

The easiest ways for consumers to impact large companies and push for climate improvement can seem so simple: eating less meat, car-free commuting, washing clothes in cold water, and shorter showers. These adaptations are overlooked by our “all or nothing” societal mentality; when really, there is no circumstance where all of our climate implementations are made in a sudden victorious sweep. As we have learned in the past with critical social movements, concrete change is made slowly and arduously. Companies have time and time again proven they are not changing until we show them it is a problem. So let us show them. 

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