It is great that BGI has scheduled Microeconomics at the same time as Social Justice. I was pleased to find out how well these two subjects go together. During our reading discussion group tonight, a number of topics were discussed and weaved in and out of both subjects, with references both to our Social Justice readings and the Economics text book.
One of these discussions revolved around Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and how sometimes they can be somewhat like “greenwashing.” If you aren’t familiar with this term, here are a few fun Greenwashing websites:
Companies may make environmental and social claims, even if they are in the business of being socially irresponsible. The example that started the conversation was a about a particular cigarette company that produces a CSR report touting their good deeds, when they are ultimately in the business of addicting and slowly killing people. How can an industry that produces the majority of the worlds litter (in the form of cigarette butts) and kills the largest number of people be in any way environmentally or socially responsible? More about the environmental impacts of cigarettes on TreeHugger.
To which I responded with an interesting paradox: how “green” is good enough? I currently work for a retailer of sustainable building supplies and have had that same exact question come up. One of the projects that my company participated in was the 2007 Seattle Street of Dreams. We placed a lot of material into a beautiful, national award winning, 5-star certified Built Green home know as the Urban Lodge. While this home was built to the highest standards, used entirely sustainably produced materials, it was 4,591 square feet, including a 588sf studio, a 4-car garage, 700sf of outdoor patio living space, 4 bedrooms, and 5 bathrooms. The size of this home is anything but modest or sustainable. It has a considerable footprint and to top it all off was built on a wetland. The Street of Dreams development created quite a controversy that year, most notably when the Urban Lodge was burnt to the ground by environmentalist group ELF. You can read about the fire and see images via the Seattle Times here.
These homes would have been built anyway, so wasn’t it better that they used sustainable building materials as opposed to traditional building materials that would have had a much greater impact on the environment? It’s an interesting paradox, that I think will become more and more relevant as we as a society try to become more environmentally and socially aware. To bring it back to Social Justice, I had a similar reaction to something I read in the ISO/DIS 26000 – Guidance on Social Responsibility. Following the section about child labor, Table 3 in this document is the ILO Standards on Minimum Age for Admission to Employment or Work:
|Developed Countries||Developing Countries|
|Regular Work||15 years||14 years|
|Hazardous Work||18 years||18 years|
|Light Work||13 years||12 years|
I was appalled that it was acceptable for children as young as 12 years be deemed old enough for employment. But coming back to the previous question, how old is old enough? Certainly if children are going to be employed, 12 years as a minimum age is definitely better than 8 years old. Granted, there are a number of cases where children and teenagers may be the only one able to work and support their family, so I do recognize that there are other forces, especially different cultural norms, that play into this particular situation.
So I guess it is easy to say that there is still much progress to be done, but should we discount certain advances? For example, if a tobacco company is producing a CSR report and showing that they have been making progress on reducing the environmental impact of growing tobacco, are working with their supplies to ensure proper working conditions, etc. is that good progress? Does it matter that they are ultimately producing a product that kills people? I don’t necessarily have an answer to this question.
However, I do believe that any advances in environmental sustainability and social responsibility should count for something. We can certainly take them with a grain of salt, but as it is often said at BGI, “it’s all good work.” If you do something to reduce your impact, even if it is as little as changing one light bulb, you are making a difference.