Big Business isn’t Always the Enemy

Two-hundred million dollars is a fair amount of money: it’s enough to have Alex Rodriguez as your 3rd baseman for a few years and it’s the yearly GDP of the Marshal Islands. It is also the amount Google invested in the Spinning Spur Wind Project, a Texas wind farm, last week. This is the tenth investment in green energy for the search giant since 2010. And Google isn’t the only big business taking sustainability seriously. Between 2008 and 2010 TD Bank increased its revenue and hired more employees while reducing its green house gases by 11%. Even the much-maligned Walmart has partnered with The Sustainability Consortium and is in the process of creating the world’s largest index of products ranked on their sustainability. This index, once completed, will allow for both Walmart wholesale buyers and consumers to know how sustainable specific products are and to purchase accordingly.

Now, none of this is to say that these corporations are faultless, or even necessarily a force for good in the world (I’m looking at you Walmart). One of the greatest successes of the green movement has been to make environmental accountability something which businesses can use to improve their image and advertise, but this has come with the side effect of a rapid increase in greenwashing. So of course, everything should be taken with a grain of salt. Both TD Bank and Walmart are using their sustainable actions as major parts of their advertising. But, at least with these two companies, the results are real. And in an unrepentant and unsustainable world, highlighting the good becomes even more important and those who fight for a green future must find their allies wherever they can.

This means that we shouldn’t discount positive actions just because they might be motivated by self-interest, and we shouldn’t vilify large organizations simply because they are large. In fact, perhaps the most productive thing for the environmental movement is to champion the link between sustainability and self-interest. One of the most detrimental aspects of our world today is the idea that environmentalism is at odds with the economy and job creation. This is the banner that is waved by our detractors. If environmentalists reject every big business on the basis that it has been successful, then they are implicitly agreeing that success cannot coincide with sustainability. These large organizations can make tremendous progress in humanity’s efforts to stem climate change and we cannot disregard that.

The difficulties our society faces are due to the way our economic system works and these organizations have thrived in this system. Big businesses have built themselves with the bricks and mortar of our unsustainable world and therefore much should be expected of them. But if we are going to get the change the world needs, it will take all hands: the mantra that big businesses can  only do wrong is as harmful as believing nothing needs to be done at all.