Environmental sustainability and concern for human health were not always priorities of the international business community. In fact, throughout the history of business, one could count on businesses concentrating on wealth creation but ignoring the consequences to the environment and human health.
The negative impacts of the Industrial Revolution caught the attention of early "green" pioneers, who then galvanized a movement that proceeded to influence business and political leaders around the world. Today's green movement — and all of its benefits to humankind — is the result of advanced thinking at a time when few were receptive to such ideas. Fortunately, the movement has taken hold and is becoming a priority for some businesses and political leaders.
Stakeholder groups — investors, employees, citizens — are demanding that organizations adopt green practices. As a result, it's now a strong business decision to do so, with issues like corporate social responsibility, sustainable management and business ethics being incorporated into business school training.
Long before the public was made aware of the dangers of spraying pesticides on crops and filling food with chemicals, a few bold individuals were spotlighting the potentially devastating outcomes. Yet these people were considered oddballs by their contemporaries. In the early 19th century, Jerome Rodale, founder of Rodale Press, started a landmark magazine called Organic Gardening. Later in the 19th century, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg — ironically a co-founder of the company known best for sugary cereals — was concerned about health reform and people not eating enough vegetables. Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring (1962), exposed the dangers of pesticides on human health and nature.
John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson were influenced by the work of these pioneers and added environmental protections to their political platforms. Richard Nixon created the Environmental Protection Agency. NASA astronaut William Anders snapped a photograph of Earth while orbiting the moon that demonstrated the fragility of our planet and was foundational to the modern green movement.
In December 2015, parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change reached a global agreement to intensify investments in a sustainable, low-carbon future. In 2020 most developed countries may begin to implement actions set forth in the agreement that focus on economic, social and environmental well-being. To reach the broad objective of keeping the global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius this century, the agreement promotes a transparent framework in which countries report regularly on greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and aim for prescribed targets.
A "global stocktake" will occur in 2023 and every five years thereafter to assess collective progress toward achieving the goals of the agreement. This will be based on the best available scientific methods at the time and should assist parties in revising their actions. Individual governments are now imposing regulations on businesses such as those in the automotive industry to reduce emissions and enable their host countries to become accountable to the climate accord standards.
The movement affects everything from the international community and individual countries to academia and individual consumers. Because the movement is ultimately about creating healthier living conditions, consumers have shown increasing interest in businesses that expresses a commitment to sustainable practices. In fact, 73% of consumers say they would change their consumption habits to reduce their environmental impact, and 55% say they would pay a premium for products that are environmentally responsible. If it matters to consumers, it matters to the future of businesses that depend on satisfying those consumers.
Sources:Nielsen: Unpacking the Sustainability Landscape
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