The Environment as a Stakeholder – Blog Post 07.21.2022

In my own opinion, the environment should be considered a stakeholder of every business. Perhaps not an important one for some organizations, but a stakeholder nonetheless. I’d like to address why I feel that Professor David Woodward was wrong in saying that “flora and fauna, the biosphere, mountain ranges and the oceans cannot themselves give expression to the matters of concern about corporate activity that would most distress those elements could they but articulate such concern.” By this, he means that the trees can not speak, and therefore can not be heard. I disagree.

I’m going to present a completely out-of-the-blue hypothetical, but bear with me even if parts of it wouldn’t technically play out as described. Picture that a fleet of fishing boats overfish their prey, depleting the populations’ numbers to less than about a tenth of what they might have been under normal conditions. Now imagine that, every year, for some portion of the year, that species of fish migrates to and stays within a particular region of the ocean, maybe where there exists a plentiful kelp forest. For that full amount of time, the fish play a large role in fertilizing the kelp through their natural excrement. Suddenly, one year, the fish don’t show up. Maybe the kelp forest is able to sustain, or if it suffers at all, the detriment might only be minimal in the first year. But year after year, the fish never arrive, at least not anywhere near enough of them. Some number of years later, the kelp forest is ruined. And maybe that kelp forest is situated right by a grouping of islands, and perhaps it plays a huge role in taming the waves to prevent flooding on the land, as a natural levee. When the kelp forest disappears, so too does the archipelago’s protection from the ocean. Floods begin to ravage the islands, injuring and killing inhabitants, destroying man-made and natural structures alike. Even though it took years, the actions of the fishing fleet had a series of observable effects on the environment, and the environment eventually gave a response. It’s our job to listen to it, and I think every company can devote effort to doing so.

– from worldatlas.com

But, to continue this idea, it’s worth acknowledging that the environment doesn’t speak on impulse. It takes time to mull over its thoughts, to substantiate its words with actions. But, in the professional world, we can’t wait until it’s time to write a check to explain what purpose the check will serve. We can’t simultaneously plan and act out our next quarter’s goals. But we also can’t afford to ignore the deliberate, albeit dilatory, opinions of the environment. That is why we must work to anticipate them. And, again, although I don’t have an idea as to how we can do that right now, I believe it is imperative for every organization everywhere to care what the environment has to say. We must anticipate on its behalf, and listen to it when it finally gives us its thoughts.

Now, I’d like to discuss the industry of vertical farming. Rather than pick a single business whose efforts toward sustainability I admire, I want to promote the idea of controlled-environment agriculture (CEA). The general idea is that the art of agriculture can be precisely calculated, and that in doing so, crop yields can be reliably increased along with crop quality, water can be preserved, and potential detriments to crops (climate, bugs, etc.) can be removed from the equation. Picture heads of lettuce in rows of growing beds (not soil) directly beneath LED lights, year-round, in a city.

– from Wikipedia

The entire process is made so precise, that potential growth is capitalized upon, potential loss is removed, and the food can be grown directly in the centers of major metropolises, where agriculture has never been spatially feasible, and even within food deserts all over the world. Healthy food could be grown and harvested a block away from many people who, today, have no access.

But the industry does currently face a major problem. A few actually, but I’ll only address one with regards to sustainability: the energy required to provide light to the plants. For all the pro-environmental aims of vertical farming, using coal and gas-powered energy to operate the whole system is obviously counter-intuitive. However, as sustainable energy production and storage technologies are improved upon in the coming years, as I am confident that they will be, the vertical farming industry will hopefully develop the industry standard to power their facilities with green energy.

As for an industry that is unapologetically harming the environment, I want to discuss the Bitcoin sector of cryptocurrency and the broader blockchain tech industry. The mining of bitcoin (or the production of it) requires a lot of energy. This is because the process of mining involves every miner in existence constantly competing to out”guess” everyone else. This process is run through computers. Bitcoin mining facilities host tens, even hundreds of computers, operating nonstop and at full capacity. It should be obvious why this poses a threat to the world’s energy supply, particularly when that energy is not a green kind. There is hope, however, as Ava Labs has been developing and promoting the Avalanche blockchain, which utilizes a far more sustainable system of operations, not to mention there are several other blockchains aiming to do the same thing. Time will tell if the technology will become adopted into the mainstream.

– from Avalanche’s twitter profile picture

I think, as social (and environmental) pressures continue to mount, oil companies will soon have to take responsibility for the harm they cause. One method that organizations have used in repaying the environment for the negative effects they create is through buying carbon credits. In theory, a carbon credit is a certification that a company has paid for the offsetting of its own emissions. Organizations providing the credits will then take the money and put it to use by planting trees or cleaning oceans and whatnot.

My guess is that oil companies are going to start buying these carbon credits in bulk, if they haven’t already. Except I think that carbon credits are a deceitful way of pretending to care about the environment. At best, they are a way to ensure net zero, so at least there is no negative, but reality would have it that planting X number of trees in location A to offset Y number of oil plants in location B does not effectively control the issues caused by the oil plants. Trees planted in Canada have little impact on oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico.