Who Is Responsible for a Better World? Government, Corporations or Us?


Here is a continuation of a conversation I am having with a friend, Melissa, in the CSR department of a major US consumer product good company.
The question that we have been grappling is one of responsibility. While the finger can be pointed at everyone, who really is in charge? Government, Corporations or us? Please join our dialogue as the point of this post is not to theorize about the answer, but to start the discussion. Here’s what Melissa had to say:

I can’t help but notice how we overwhelmingly blame corporations or government for our growing environmental problems while forgetting our responsibility as consumers. Sure, corporations produce a lot of stuff we don’t need in unsustainable ways, but we buy it! Yes, government could up the ante on environmental regulation, preservation and funding; but if we don’t tell legislators what we want and hold them accountable, we can’t expect much.
Accepting responsibility isn’t a sacrifice, but freedom and empowerment – the realization that we have a choice and aren’t helpless pawns.

To buy or not to buy” isn’t really the (only) question. While we buy a lot of unnecessary stuff and don’t always choose sustainable options, there are things we need and to preach complete austerity in a recession is heartless treason to some.
Rather, we need to shop smarter when we do need something, now, more than ever. We need to make every dollar an investment in the world we want to see, to look past short term gains in favor of lasting solutions. In doing this, we can build a more sustainable economy and environment, as well as social equity.
To make our dollars go as far as possible, we need to be creative. Hybrid cars, solar panels and organic food, for example, are out of reach for many financially. By forming a car share, buying co-ops and the like we can make them more affordable. On a more practical level, we can take a cue from companies like TerraCycle and repurpose what we currently discard.
At the same time, we need to tell corporations and government what course we want them to take and make sure they hold their share of responsibility.
How are you embracing personal responsibility and engaging corporations and government? What ideas and resources do you have for others?”

Tom Szaky is the Founder and CEO of TerraCycle, Inc. a company that makes eco-revolutionary products entirely from garbage! TerraCycle, since its humble beginnings in a Princeton University dorm room, is committed to being a triple bottom line company. Tom at the ancient age of 19 learned about composting with worms. The concept of using tiny little worms to turn food waste into a powerful, organic fertilizer fascinated Tom, who was appalled by the amount of food discarded by his campus's cafeteria. Tom started TerraCycle with no investors from a friend's garage by building a Worm Gin where he could house millions of worms in a small area. He all but bankrupted himself and maxed out all his credit cards to build the machine. With the help of friends he would shovel pounds of rotten, maggot-infested food from the Princeton cafeterias. Without any money left over, Tom could not afford to buy bottles to package his fertilizer. That's when the sustainability gods smiled on Tom, who was up one night wandering the streets Princeton in search of an answer to his packaging dilemma. It just happened to be recycling night and Tom realized that millions of homes were putting billions of free bottles out on the curb once a week! That serendipitous moment set everything to follow into motion. Slowly he began to finance his infantile start up by winning business plan contests. Finally he hit the pay dirt! He won the million dollar grand prize at the Carrot Capital Business plan contest. However, the financiers of the contest wanted to move TerraCycle away from used bottles and away from it's environmental focus. Despite being on the verge of bankruptcy, Tom turned down the money. In the six years since then TerraCycle has grown to a multi-million dollar company that doubles in size every year. Still we are committed to our triple bottom line beginnings. Still making our products from other's people waste. Still based in an Urban Enterprise Zone in Trenton, NJ. Still a second chance employer. Find out how and why, here at triplepundit.com

4 responses

  1. From the perspective of working in the federal government for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, everyone is responsible, citizens, the government and businesses. The bottom line is that we create environmental impacts with everything we do. Turn a light, turn up the furnace, get in the car to go get a prescription for a cold, take a trip, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is our awareness of these impacts and what we do to mitigate these impacts. Government regulations need to be part of the solution, but so do other tools like mass communications and behavioral change/social marketing campaigns.
    As a point of departure, I suggest that you check out the following three websites: http://www.protectyourwaters.net, http://www.habitattitude.net and http://www.smarxtdisposal.net
    Additionally, I believe we need to fundamentally change our economy. Currently, it is based on individual consumption and I believe this is flawed. Look consumption up in the dictionary and it means destruction. And then look at our urban sprawl. Unfettered growth in the human body is known as cancer. So, if we truly are going to move toward a sustinable economy, I don’t think it can be based on continued growth and consumption.

  2. I think more and more businesses are getting the message that the consumer concept of “value” is expanding to reflect an awareness of broad CSR goals. The data on both consumer expectations and competitive advantage suggest that consumers are seeking out companies that act responsibly, and successful businesses are starting to capitalize on this trend. By re-working the traditional business model to incorporate CSR goals, they’re positioning themselves to succeed, even in these tough economic times.

  3. everyone is an individual first. i believe business’ needs should be what people need. what people need is access to clean food, clothes and shelter. anything that will create a lack or corrupted version of any of the following should be thrown out and scrapped.
    businesses, if they want to sustain, must think sustainably therefore as designers. considering the full dimension of everyone’s, as well as the business’ experiences, reaching into the core for real meaning and conveying truth in their products and services, then will people be able to know the difference between what isn’t and could be best for meeting those needs.

  4. Have you noticed how important it is to the wealthy and powerful to get the rest of us spending again? We have enormous dollar-voting power right now. We are the key. Yes, we need to hold our governments accountable. Equally important, we must show manufacturers what we want by voting with our dollars. Change one non-sustainable habit a week. CFL Lightbulbs; fair-trade, organic coffee in a reusable mug; walking or using public transit. Tell your friends why you’re doing it. Tell the clerks what you want. The choices are ours. The responsibility is ours. We have the power to make lasting change.

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