Greening The Dark Future: Questioning Corporate Capitalism

Written By: Najwa Jamal

Climate change and global warming: The end of our planet as we know it. Buried amongst these statements of our dire reality are questions of blame and responsibility.  It was not always clear who should shoulder the blame, and it still isn’t. But emerging from the mountains of trash (25% of which are recyclable products) in landfills is a newfound resounding answer: corporations.

Corporations are to blame for just about all of what has happened to our climate and environment today. Varying research and reports indicate that about 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions. But what if some corporations are trying to change that? How can we properly determine the true intentions behind eco-friendly corporate switches today? Are we merely falling into a warped and manufactured notion of green capitalism? Should we accept progress at the cost of integrity?

Companies are activating their agency in shifting narratives of responsibility from the individual and consumer to themselves, the producers. Here’s an example of how:

“Starting in May, Unilever’s Axe and Dove deodorants will come in refillable steel containers that are expected to last eight years. PepsiCo will start selling Tropicana orange juice in glass bottles and certain flavors of Quaker cereal in steel containers. Häagen-Dazs, owned by Nestlé, will come in refillable stainless steel tins. Procter & Gamble’s Pantene shampoo will come in aluminum bottles, and its Tide brand detergent will come in stainless steel containers.”

According to this recent Vox article, companies from Haagen Daz to Dove are planning imminent and perhaps revolutionary changes to product packaging. This would significantly reduce future plastic waste in the grand scheme of recycling.

Unilever, Procter & Gamble—these are only a few of many mammoth corporations to alter their production methodology by 2025. Projected changes are also targeting agricultural practices. Nestle has committed to using 100% properly sourced palm oil by 2020. Brands like Ben and Jerry and Dove have made similar commitments to their agricultural sources by 2020. Even Ikea plans on banning single-use plastic products in their stores and restaurants and pledged to build hundreds of wind mines and install solar panels on their buildings.

Other companies are involved too—Patagonia’s founder donated $10 million in tax returns to grassroots organizations fighting for climate change. The company further pledges to donate 1% of sales to climate preservation.

As a consumer and individual heavily invested in the fight for preserving our planet, this is beyond incredible news. Companies are finally listening. Albeit small steps, steps are being made, and there is potentially hope for the state of our world. Evidently, there is no way to differentiate between a company’s intentions—we can only speculate. But it is equally as obvious that environmentalism and climate care have developed into a fad, a frenzy that corporations can spin into profit. From the words “organic” and “natural” being slapped onto every package to “biodegradable” written on a myriad of paper and plastic products, we as a society are potentially nearing a pseudo-liberalist view of climate change. Companies may be targeting our rightfully incessant need to save the world.

And in the process, green capitalism is born, instead of simply green change.

Just as there is financial illiteracy, one could say that most of the world’s individuals are environmentally literate. As a population, we may be relying on vague “poster” concepts of environmentalism. Compostable corn-based plastic cups are becoming more common throughout the United States, but among a population already uninformed about proper disposal, they can contaminate oil-based plastic recycling processes if misplaced. Part of the challenge is not just creating and enacting these innovations in sustainability, but restructuring existing relationships to disposal. How can we improve rates of contaminations in regions that offer recycling and compost? How can composting and recycling be extended to more communities? And most of all, how can companies be held accountable for the existing waste they’ve left in the environment, and how can unchanging companies be required to cease and desist dumping and extremely inefficient practices that most directly pollute our world?

So we are left at crossroads, accepting an imperfect resolution and compromise. Maybe compromises are simply the only solution, or maybe we’ve forgotten how to push harder to not only make demands but make results, particularly as we reach the precipice of an irreversible crisis.

For the time being, we may be forced into a corner of accepting imperfect progress. It is progress nonetheless. But we can keep pushing for more. Change has to transcend beyond capitalism and corporations, and the people who have profited on damaging production and now wish to capitalize on half-hearted solutions have to be held accountable.

Even while trying to get these 100 companies to face justice, we have to continue to work within and educate our own communities, sustaining the micro-environments that directly impact people across the planet. Actions like this have been happening in our own backyard and can continue to evolve. Kline Dining Commons has practically mandated the use of reusable containers, implementing the use of mugs and paper straws as well. Laurie Hustead, head of the Office of Sustainability, has spearheaded the creation of a Climate Drawdown Challenge, encouraging people to take immediately enactable small steps to help save our climate.

We can and should continue to be dualistic about these approaches, and we can and should continue to be skeptical about companies who live and die by their bottom dollar. What do you know about your real-world impact? How do you find out the cost of your lifestyle? How do you act? Hold yourself accountable? These are the questions we not only have to ask but must act towards if we are truly committed to changing our impending future.

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