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Corporate Sustainability: Impossible Alone, Participation Essential, Leadership Needed

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The sustainability of any one corporation depends on the sustainability of our whole economic system. Corporations depend on suppliers, laborers, capitalists, and customers; all must be sustained for any particular corporation to be sustained. All are in this together; no corporation can sustain itself. Being the last surviving corporation is no consolation.

That said, business leaders are choosing among multiple paths. Reasoning that others will “free ride,” some corporate leaders figure they might as well “free ride” too. If too many follow this path, we are all doomed to suffer an environmentally degrading world until it collapses around us. A few other corporate leaders seem to be reasoning that, if collapse is near anyway, “it is better to fail trying” with the hope of getting others to follow. Of course, it is more complicated than this. Between these extremes, few corporations pass up the opportunity to invest in a strategic innovation favorable to the environment if it will give them a market advantage. And new environmental protection regulations, as well as incentives to do environmental good, are opening up new environmental markets that only an environmental curmudgeon among corporate leaders would pass up. Corporations also see tighter environmental regulations and larger incentives to move toward sustainability in the future, and these are affecting their investment decisions today, making rational decisions from a purely economic perspective look like environmental leadership. And as more corporations respond, some see a trend that they must keep ahead of to stay competitive, a wave to ride or be rolled in. Lastly, green washing, fooling consumers and stockholders, surely pays in the short run. Most of these are purely economic strategies that intermingle with corporate citizenship, good and bad. The strategies of most corporations are a bundle of contradictions, reflecting the distribution of leadership and opportunities within the modern corporation in a rapidly changing world.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3726/978-3-0353-0377-3_12

Publication date: January 1, 2006

More about this publication?
  • Interdisciplinary Yearbook of Business Ethics
    This volume comprises the work of twenty scholars and practitioners from Europe, America, Asia and Africa. Contributors represent a diversity of fields including organizational science, economics, systems theory, personality psychology, business ethics, finance, management, philosophy, political science, sociology, and ecology. All the papers stand for a more human and ethical approach to economics and business.
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  • Learn more about Peter Lang @ GSE Research
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