Redirecting Responsibility: Corporations are causing climate change, not individuals

Corporations need government mandates to take on their fair share of climate accountability

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A group of people sit on a front lawn at night, directly overlooking a massive forest fire at night.
Individual efforts have minimal impact when our government refuses to regulate corporate greed. PHOTO: Mike Newbry / Unsplash

By: Annalisse Crosswell, SFU Student

The climate change conversation is constantly evolving. It’s gone from “does it really exist?” to “why should I take responsibility?” to “someone has to take responsibility but who is it going to be?” If you asked questions about climate change in the late ‘90s, you were likely told we’re simply overdue for an ice age. However, 20 years later climate change is a reality impossible to ignore, with more people choosing to contribute to the solution rather than passively letting the problem persist. It’s going to take more than individual citizens’ choices to turn this around. Now, more than ever, corporations need to do their part to fix the climate disaster they overwhelmingly contribute to.

Our individual efforts to combat climate change are already impacting corporations. Despite the fact that documentaries like the 2014 film Cowspiracy were probably the first time many young people considered issues like water consumption in agriculture, research says that the US plant-based foods market grew 20% in 2018. This positive impact is visible four years later in the expansion of vegan aisles at the supermarket and the number of environmentally conscious businesses now operating in cities like Vancouver.

Corporations still fail to make sustainable choices on their own, and it’s evident in reports calling out brands like H&M for “greenwashing,” a term used to describe the practice of falsifying or exaggerating sustainable company practices. The shipping industry alone accounts for almost 3% of global emissions  while also causing an enormous amount of damage to ocean life. One of the most prominent shipping companies, Maersk, was recently caught in greenwashing allegations. The company claims it purchased eight ships that could be carbon neutral, but experts allege that this isn’t possible. Something needs to change, whether it comes from within the decision-making ranks of corporations or through government intervention.

At the end of the day, most corporate decisions are made on the basis of financial gain. One avenue for demanding corporate responsibility is through our consumer voices and habits. This is done primarily through our purchasing power, where we choose products that reflect positive values and boycott products we disagree with. The other important solution, of course, comes from our elected government. Through governance, not only can corporate responsibility be mandated, like through minimal packaging mandates and taxes, but it can be integrated into governmental processes as well by choosing sustainable products, partners, and practises. Vancouver may be enacting this now through its plastic bans, but this is just a stepping stone in one city.

Younger generations today are unable to enjoy the notion of a future within their lifetimes, and they’re becoming increasingly angry about that. Given that Gen Z’s consumer trends and business models seem to be environmentally conscious while corporations create far more emissions than an individual ever could, it only makes sense to turn to their generation for help. While it would be nice to think corporations might make these changes out of the goodness of their capitalistic hearts, the reality is that we don’t have time to wait for their initiative. Stronger government mandates regarding zero-emissions vehicles and plastic use need to be put in place. This needs to happen quickly if we want to see a future beyond the apocalypse we keep envisioning in the media.