Ecological products

Corporate sustainability fails by selling more stuff – Futurity: Research News

Summary

Share this Article

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

A new book punctures two of the central tenets of corporate sustainability efforts.

The automotive industry is becoming electric. Packaging companies are using compostab…….

npressfetimg-563.png

Share this
Article

You are free to share this article under the Attribution 4.0 International license.

<!–
Topic

A new book punctures two of the central tenets of corporate sustainability efforts.

The automotive industry is becoming electric. Packaging companies are using compostable plastic. Clothing manufacturers are embracing “vegan” and “eco-friendly” materials. By supporting these companies, we could be on track toward a bright and sustainable future.

Except that we’re not, argues University of California, Santa Barbara industrial ecologist Roland Geyer. After decades spent studying the impact of business on the environment, Geyer, a professor in the Bren School of Environmental Science & Management, has found only a widening gap between upbeat corporate sustainability messaging and the reality of a deteriorating environment.

“We need to take a good, hard look at what’s going on here because it’s not working,” he says of strategies that have been embraced by corporate sustainability plans since the 1990s.

In his new book, The Business of Less (Routledge, 2021), Geyer takes aim at the assertion that we can achieve sustainability merely by focusing on reducing the environmental impact per product or service and at the belief that increased revenues or profits should be the sole motive behind corporate environmental efforts.

Often billed with the buzzwords “eco-efficiency,” and “win-win,” corporate sustainability strategies tend to focus on decreasing the ecological impact of their products—say, the transition from internal combustion engines to electric motors in cars—in a move that achieves social and ecological goals while increasing profitability. Everybody wins.

Behind the scenes, however, it’s a different story.

Corporate ‘sustainability’

“The annual amount of stuff we make and the energy we consume has just skyrocketed, throughout the 20th century and continuing into the first 20 years of this century,” Geyer says.

“For instance, our cars are more efficient than they were in 1991, which is great,” he explains. “But in 1991 the world made about 47 million cars; in 2019 we made about 92 million cars. So just since 1991 we have doubled the annual production of cars.” Annual production of commodities such as steel, aluminum, and plastic have tripled since 1991, he adds.

What gains we think we’ve made by buying more efficient goods are eclipsed by the sheer amount of goods that are produced, and the energy and resources that go into making and using them.

Consumer behavior is a confounding factor as well. Purchasing eco-friendly products often leads to a “rebound” effect, in which consumption is increased: owners of electric cars may drive farther, users of energy-efficient appliances may use them more often, offsetting gains the product might provide.

Evidence of the apparent failure of these strategies can be seen in the steady rise of our greenhouse gas emissions every year, despite all plans and products to help us become carbon neutral by mid-century.

“‘Win-win’ and ‘eco-efficiency’ …….

Source: https://www.futurity.org/corporate-sustainability-net-green-2654112-2/