Beware of Sophisticated Corporate Efforts to Duck Environmental Responsibility
By Romero Halloway
Nuance. It’s a tough thing to find in today’s discourse. But because reality is fundamentally nuanced, any attempts to describe it must contain nuance.
A relevant example to Littorary and all nascent startups comes via the concept of the carbon footprint. We here at Littorary are vigorously committed to monitoring and reducing our carbon footprint in our supply chain, our manufacturing processes, and our transportation.
We have committed to Climate Neutral certification, which will help our burgeoning company audit our greenhouse gas emissions, reduce emissions, and implement offsets for those emissions that remain. For instance, if Littorary generates a certain amount of carbon emissions per year through its manufacturing process, we can offset those emissions by funding a project that helps conserve an at-risk forest that can function as a carbon sink, contribute to the construction of a renewable energy project like a wind farm, or contribute toward technologies that pull greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere.
All of this is to say that we are fiercely proud of our commitments to undertake our business in a climate-conscious way.
We also recognize the nuanced vision of the concept of a carbon footprint, which was invented by a PR firm Ogilvy & Mather on behalf of British Petroleum to deflect the company’s own responsibility to reduce carbon emissions onto the individual consumer.
BP paid $250 million for the advertising campaign, replete with a carbon footprint calculator so individual consumers could measure their output. Meanwhile, BP not only refused to slow the extraction of fossil fuels from fields around the globe but accelerated it.
“The first carbon footprint calculator was developed and popularized by BP in a $250 million campaign,” said Ash Sarkar, a British political activist. “Why? To individualize the problem, and let big polluters off the hook.”
This is not to say that investigating one’s own contributions to various environmental problems doesn’t have value, but only to point out a propensity for corporations to misuse individual concerns to evade corporate responsibility.
Big oil is a classic example of producing what economists call negative externalities. In this case, a polluter makes decisions only based on cost and profit and does not consider indirect costs to people negatively impacted by pollution. In the case of fossil fuels we are all impacted by the emissions and many people who live near smokestacks are harmed even further by the industry.
Many economists believe that companies that create negative externalities should bear the cost, rather than spreading those costs amid individual consumers or taxpayers as currently constructed.
It’s why this concept of a carbon footprint as a deflection is so important to understand even while taking responsibility for reducing one’s own contributions to environmental problems.
This same concept can easily be superimposed on the environmental cause with which we are most concerned - plastic pollution.
The producers of plastic materials, particularly producers of single-use plastic products like beverage bottles and other forms of packaging, also deflect their responsibility for the problem of plastic litter by sloughing it off onto the consumer.
The effort is to make the consumer believe that by putting their plastic product into the appropriate receptacle, they are absolved from contributing to the environmental problem. This implicates consumers who neglect or refuse to place the product in the appropriate receptacle as the cause of the pollution problems and not the company that produces the plastic. In the case of plastic recycling, this is an even bigger illusion. Keeping track of your carbon footprint is important, but only 10% of the plastic products consumers are putting in their bins are being recycled. That’s because plastics are often shipped overseas, to various countries with lax environmental laws. While some of the plastic is legitimately recycled, much of it is unceremoniously dumped into waterways where it ends up strewn on beaches and along riverways.
At Littorary, we believe the solution is to not buy into corporate-produced mitigation strategies that are more misleading propaganda than useful environmental tools. In the case of climate change, fossil fuels must be replaced by more climate-friendly renewable forms of energy.
In terms of plastic pollution, single-use plastic products must be replaced by reusable goods that are overwhelmingly plastic-free and provide a more environmentally responsible option.
We here at Littorary are working on that.
Littorary is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in concert with the health of the environment. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the convenience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.