A Guide to How We Can Hold Corporations More Accountable: As mounting concerns about climate change reach their highest levels yet, individuals worldwide have begun instituting eco-friendly measures in their everyday lives. Whether that’s installing a smart home thermostat or recycling as much as possible, people are doing what they can to invest in a greener future.
When it comes to corporations, however, it’s a different story. According to one groundbreaking report published in 2017, “The products of just 100 private and state-owned fossil fuel companies were linked to 71% of global industrial greenhouse gas emissions since 1988.”
That means that no matter how much recycling and waste reduction we implement in our daily lives, climate change activists must hold corporations more accountable if we are to surmount the palpable challenge of global warming.
Why We Need to Hold Corporations More Accountable
Since 1965 — the time around which fossil fuel companies began to understand their negative impact on the environment — experts have identified that just 20 fossil fuel companies were responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions.
Attitudes like that are not new in the corporate world. Manufacturers of asbestos-containing products intentionally concealed the link between asbestos and mesothelioma for years, resulting in severe health consequences and deaths for millions of employees worldwide. One corporate director even wrote, “If you have enjoyed a good life while working with asbestos products, why not die from it?”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) tried to issue a ban on asbestos in the 1980s but was thwarted by major corporations, who claimed they’d fall into financial ruin if the ban was passed. The court decided the EPA had no authority to issue a ban, and corporations got off scot-free.
Stories like these prove the asbestos industry cover-up and reveal a wider pattern in the corporate world: some companies are willing to do almost anything to secure greater financial returns, even at the cost of the public’s health and well-being.
Widespread human death and disability are not enough to change corporate action, and when it comes to climate change, corporations are even less likely to face backlash. But the struggle against climate change is an uphill fight, and one of its most difficult battles is yet to come — it lies in our willingness to hold corporations more accountable for their environmental impact.
A Pathway Toward Change
Before urging corporate change, it’s important to realize not all companies are created equal. Some, like Google, are making honest efforts to drive change, while others can’t say the same. Energy corporations are a prime culprit. Not only is their initial business model built on the extraction of natural resources, but they’re massive polluters.
The food and beverage industry is another sector hostile toward the environment. In fact, the top 15 U.S. food and beverage companies “generate nearly 630 million metric tons of greenhouse gases every year.” Those numbers are based on self-reported data, meaning they’re likely lower than real emission levels. Coca-Cola and Pepsi are also among the 20 businesses producing the most ocean pollution.
By outsourcing environmental impact to their supply chains, corporations have managed to dodge blame in recent years, but increased pressure from government and activist groups can hack away at this negligence.
Fortunately, there are several avenues from which to tackle the issue of environmental corporate accountability.
One such pathway is investing in sustainable career opportunities. As governmental regulations gradually continue to restrict corporate emissions, oversight is needed to help companies implement eco-friendly changes, to ensure initiatives are safe and up to standard.
Other careers in sustainability include urban planners, hydrologists, and conservation scientists. All of these jobs expect to see increases in employment in the coming years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, making them long-term career choices. As corporations look to mitigate their environmental impact and avoid greenwashing, environmental professionals promise to have a big impact.
They’re also a way to hold corporations more accountable to third-party standards, which can drastically reduce a corporation’s pollution. If the top 15 U.S. food and beverage industries were a country, they’d emit more greenhouse gases than Australia, ranking #14 in the listing of greenhouse gas emissions by country. Reforming corporations is hands-down the fastest way to a victory against climate change.
Eco-consciousness was once synonymous with financial loss, but that’s not the case anymore. Because of the long-term benefits of eco-friendly measures, both financial and environmental, consumers are now eager to consume products and services that subscribe to an environmentally-friendly business model.
Establishing a carbon-conscious corporation is one way businesses can set themselves apart from the competition while aiding the environment. Google has been a trailblazer in this category, first achieving carbon neutrality in 2007.
As of last year, the company also purchased enough carbon offsetting to cancel out all emissions since its 1998 conception. Just imagine the impact it would have if all major corporations followed Google’s model. The company’s new goal is an ambitious one in the fight against climate change: to run the entire business completely on carbon-free energy by 2030.
Companies like Apple and even BP are following suit, aiming to achieve net-zero emissions in the coming decades. Companies can take their first concrete steps toward creating an eco-friendly corporation by identifying inefficiencies, targeting specific energy reduction projects, and carbon offsetting.
However, private corporations aren’t the only powerful institutions capable of ushering in change. Local and national governments can take actions that are just as impactful, designing more sustainable and livable cities for their inhabitants. Governmental bodies have particular power when it comes to air pollution, as they can institute measures to limit vehicular traffic and control emissions from port activity.
Around the world today, several major cities have made big strides to fight air pollution, one of the leading causes of health issues in cities. China is one of the most notorious nations when it comes to air pollution.
As the country with the greatest number of megacities, China’s bustling development is estimated to account for air pollution so severe that over a million people die prematurely each year as a result. Beijing’s fight against air pollution began in 1998, and 10 years later the city was able to achieve a 35% decrease in concentrated particulate matter in the air, all while its economy continued to grow.
Following China’s example, cities like Delhi and Los Angeles have also managed to reduce levels of air pollution through targeted response plans and government subsidies that allow more residents to make the shift to sustainable energy.
Once corporations or governments get the sustainability ball rolling, it’s unlikely to stop. Although the city of Los Angeles has managed to curb air pollution to 40% of its original concentration, the city’s next goal is to implement zero-emissions technology by 2030, a huge stride forward in the fight against climate change.
The impacts of the environmental crisis our planet is facing go far beyond our own homes. Nature is indifferent to municipal boundaries and the interests of powerful corporations. To put it bluntly, if we’re unable to halve greenhouse gas emissions each decade between now and 2050, we will most certainly find ourselves in acute peril.
The bigger the polluter, the bigger the impact of reform will be. The most efficient pathway toward achieving such an ambitious goal is not by implementing carbon sequestration techniques or reducing individual carbon footprints, although those measures can only serve to help the cause; it’s by holding the corporations responsible for the majority of emissions accountable.
The battle against climate change is the hardest challenge humanity has faced yet, but despite all the damage we’ve done, it’s not too late to avoid severe climate change if we can hold corporations more accountable. Are you up to the task?
About the Author
Amanda Winstead is a writer focusing on many topics including technology and digital marketing. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.