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The Ethical Argument for Business to "Go Green"

Updated on December 9, 2013

Can an Ethical Obligation Exist for Business?

It is a moral imperative for everybody on this planet to minimise their negative impact on it. But does this also place an ethical obligation on businesses to “go green”? And to what extent does this obligation reach – must businesses invest heavily in minimising environmental impact, even when the effects of the reallocation of finances might have other adverse effects on the business? Is it worth losing jobs over?

I say categorically, no.

People resist change

A business is a rather sensitive, but stubborn creature. This is largely a function of the people running it and working for it. People are generally resistant to change and prefer ingrained habitual behaviour. This in turn is expressed in businesses which find it challenging and requiring some creativity to achieve lasting and meaningful change in culture and methodology. “But we have been doing it like that for years, why should we change that now?” is the frustrating refrain chanted out to management attempts to make changes.

The result of this resistance to change and digging in of heels is often the result of the situation not being managed correctly; staff not understanding why changes are being made and the associated benefits; the discomfort of having to learn something new and challenging behavioural patterns. But quite apart from whether the process is managed effectively, there is an associated aspect to the resistance against change: cost.

Change needs to be sustainable for the business and its people. And in order for change to be sustainable, the business needs to be convinced of the cost-benefit analysis or it will dig in its heels too.


Tight Times mean Fewer Jobs

Overcoming resistance costs money

Change costs money, sometimes lots of it. The decision makers in the business weigh up the cost of the change against the benefits to be reaped. The cost is not necessarily limited to the immediate implementation of a new system and the obvious expenses that might come with that, like buying new machinery or upgrading your computer system. Costs also include reduced productivity while staff learn a new way of doing things and overcome their internal personal resistance to change.

Any watchful and diligent business owner will eye all extraordinary expenses very carefully and change is certainly not an ordinary expense. This is where the desirability of fundamental changes in the business process inevitably bumps heads with the bean counters. They too have a frustrating refrain – how much is this all going to cost – often chanted out to the Guns N’ Roses tune of “You’re Crazy”.

Additional costs lead to cutbacks elsewhere

Once the bean counters get involved, the whole process always get more complicated. Much like other staff members resist change, so too do the accountants. They are tasked with finding money to facilitate the proposed changes and the most common way of doing this is to tighten up the expenditure in other areas of the business. It is not quite as simple as changing your daily lunch from a cheeseburger and fries to only a plain cheese sandwich, but you get the general idea.

Ordinary expenses of the business must be analysed and sacrifices made, the fat trimmed off and unnecessary expenditure cut away. Sadly, one of the first areas to lose out in a situation like this is the staff contingent. The various core competencies and functions of staff members are analysed, rationalised and certain staff inevitably are retrenched. The necessary money is saved and the problem is solved! Well… not really.

Going green, but at what cost?

This brings me back to my own apparent resistance to change.

I wholly understand the argument for individuals and business to minimise their negative impact on the environment we all live in. But consider that changing an enterprise to unrealistically cut emissions comes at a huge cost - and this cost must be considered in advocating that change. Your staff contingent is not an accounting entry, but a conglomeration of individuals with families to support.

Where the cost of change includes the loss of existing jobs, the change to green is just not worth it.


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    • healthylife2 profile image

      Healthy Life 5 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      Very interesting topic! The best solution seems to be to find a way to go green that does not cost the company additional money and maybe even saves money. Otherwise it is a challenge to convince people and having people lose their jobs and not be able to support their family is never a good solution.

    • jpcmc profile image

      JP Carlos 5 years ago from Quezon CIty, Phlippines

      Change is really a huge hurdle. But sooner or later, it has to be done.