We are all aware of the raging debate centred on who can create the change required to slow or even halt the destruction of our natural resource base. We argue that it should be corporation lead and not government, as the market will drive the corporate agenda through initiated consumer demand. But who is the corporation, and why do we insist on focusing on this entity that is without personality?

It is my contention that we should look past corporations as the initiators. We need to look behind the corporate veil and face the fact that a corporation is an assembly of individuals performing a series of aligned tasks for a common purpose. So if we now centre on the individuals that drive the corporations then it becomes clear that we should ask the question, how do we educate and influence the leaders?

As a chemical engineer who trained over 20 years ago, I become immersed in the industrial sector of design and construction of major processing facilities. The ‘thrill of the hunt’ to construct to the specification, on time and budget outweighed everything. Coming up for air in the corporate world initially focused some of my energy towards the safety of people and the environment. But the latter did not get the attention that it deserved. Conspicuous consumption has reigned for the majority of my professional career.

Not until I recently completed my ecological footprint did the ‘penny drop’. My lifestyle, which I created, was a wonderful short term journey with a long term self interest that was devoid of the broader interests of our ecological future.

As one of the thought leaders in my industry, it is my actions that can create change and not the actions of the corporations, for I am the corporation. As a corporate leader, I am responsible for the actions of the company and my individual actions. It took the education of my impact and the comparison to my peers, for me to realise that if it was going to be then it was up to me. (with a ecological footprint of 20 hectares compared to a country average of 7.6!!!)

At this point I drew a parallel from modern workplace safety practices that are behavioural based. In the safety world we have successfully pushed for individual accountability for safe work behaviour. This process has delivered dramatic improvement in safety performance.

So we need to stop pretending that the corporation will create the change, and focus on the individual. The thought leaders of the free market need to step up to the challenge and lead from the front. Our heroes, our role models and the self proclaimed winners of the modern world need to be educated on their impact now and the positive change they can create for our future.
Let’s cut the rhetoric and start the action. For me, I am now redesigning major aspects of my lifestyle to reduce its impact on energy and water consumption. I will promote this activity amongst my peers and show that individual action is the root of the solution.

Tagged with:
Posted in corporate sustainability, ecological footprint, sustainable living
  1. jeremy says:

    This is an inspiring post David – you have clearly thought very deeply about this. I’m very persuaded by your ‘personalisation’ of the corporation argument. Despite my frequent rallying calls for business students to step up and make a difference in this regard, I think I am probably as guilty as others in my conception of the corporation as an anonymous impersonal entity. On a different but related note, I don’t know whether you have been following the Gunns case, but John Quiggin had a good piece on this yesterday. He makes the point that corporations seem to want their cake and eat it in that they deny that (in the Gunns case at least) they have moral or ethical obligations other than to their shareholders, and yet they want all the protections available to a natural person, including protection from defamation.

  2. SDCA says:

    The End of Poverty

    Concerned with the legacy of environmental threats and depleted resources that we are leaving to this and future generations, including my two children aged 7 and 5 years old, I came across an excerpt of the book The End of…

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