Who Is Responsible for How Responsible a Company Is?

protests in madrid photo

Photo Courtesy of Wikimedia

We as a company take our role in reducing and reusing waste very seriously. But should others have to do the same? Is it a company's responsibility to be good corporate citizens on their own volition, or do we as consumers or the government have a role to play? How much?
Basically, who is responsible for how responsible a company is? The answer may seem straightforward, but I don't see it that way. These and other thoughts have come to mind often, as we've partnered with various companies over the years, some with no other "green" qualities outside our supplying them with materials to make product for us.

Are we, and other "green" companies that partner with ones that previously had no sustainable aspects to their company, enabling them to gain greed cred without actually doing anything different? Should we consider this a step forward, with more to be taken by those companies as they see the value of and sales as a result of producing "waste" products? Is this how you start to eliminate the idea of waste? Should these companies have been doing more of their own initiatives right from the start?

Waste-Based Products Still In The Future
I don't see, nor do I expect large producers to be turning completely over to waste based products companies any time soon. It's like asking a freighter the size of Rhode Island to make a sharp left, now. Not going to happen. Do I see them shifting incrementally more in Terracycle's direction? Perhaps.

But I don't think it's up to companies alone to change.

Changing to Zero Waste is Up to US
It's up to we as consumers, we as media, we as communities to shift what we see as desirable, what we choose to buy, what we choose to not buy. Companies are, most of the time, just following what demand dictates. If we continue to have an insatiable desire for short lived, difficult to recycle/reuse things, we're creating our own problem, not the companies.

Is that our fault as individuals? Yes, we all have responsibility for our own actions, and as parents, teaching our children thoughtful, nuanced values. And at the same time, if the norms of our society are to have no awareness of the life of what you consume after you're done with it, and we've all got many other pressing concerns to attend to, why should we be expected to have these still for the most part "outlier" awarenesses of environmental concerns?

I think that for many of us, we do now know an increasing amount about "green" issues as they relate to our lives. As people in the "developed" world, we also have the luxury of not caring, shrugging it off, and deferring to our and our family's need for convenience.

Companies Need to Provide for Our Changing Mindset
And that's where we as companies come in. The challenge is, how to make products that are appealing to people's needs, their egos, and their pocketbooks. As we continue to make inroads into the minds of mainstream society, what they ask for and choose to buy will shift, and with it, what other companies choose to make.

No, I don't think it's up to the government to legislate sustainable business practices into law. Sticks can only have so much use. It's when companies and consumers both want what's being made, and how it's being made, that lasting change will happen.

I'd like to hear your thoughts on this. Do we push companies harder? Do we push ourselves harder? Do we create change incrementally? What do you see as the best way to move society's view of what is and isn't waste?

More on Corporate Social Responsibility:
TH Interview - Kevin Hagen on Corporate Responsibility at REI
Microsoft Cutting Social Responsibility PR Budget
Book Review - Corporate Social Responsibility and Globalisation: An Action Plan for Business
Green Branding for Major Corporations

Related Content on Treehugger.com