A new book by two Australian university business professors launched in Melbourne on Tuesday warns that the corporate world is on a path towards “creative self-destruction” because it prioritises profits over the wellbeing of the planet.
Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations, by the University of Sydney Business School’s Professor Christopher Wright and the University of Newcastle’s Professor Daniel Nyberg, critically examines the corporate world’s response to climate change.
The authors claim that the corporate world has taken a “business as usual” stand in the face of a looming climate catastrophe, and that the efforts of sustainability managers are “rooted in futile compromise”.
Research undertaken for the book examined the extent to which companies claim to value the environment while still pursuing profit-driven policies that contribute to ecological harm.
“The inescapable conclusion we reach is that we’re destroying ourselves,” Professor Wright said.
“There are many factors at play, of course, because climate change is such an all-encompassing phenomenon. But how corporations respond has a huge influence.
“The truth is that the corporate world is perfectly positioned to lead us in the right direction but has instead chosen to spearhead the march towards environmental collapse.
“It has managed to convince us that it can save us and that our long-term future is safe in its hands. Yet in reality, the dominant view is that it’s only the short term that really matters.”
The authors identified three myths spread by corporations that obscure the relationship between “the accumulation of capital and the erosion of natural resources”.
Number one is corporate environmentalism, which Professor Nyberg said “perfectly encapsulates the business as usual mantra”. This myth he said portrays companies as willing to produce green products and services, then putting the onus on individual consumers to be responsible and purchase them.
“In other words, corporations have equipped us with the tools to save ourselves, so it’s our duty to use those tools wisely – and if we don’t then the fault is ours.”
He said this myth implies we don’t need to query the underlying logic of our economic system.
The second myth is “corporate citizenship”, which depicts corporations as legitimate entities in public debate and paints them as de facto representatives of “the people”.
The third is “corporate omnipotence”, which portrays corporations as all-powerful, all-knowing agents of rationality and efficiency and therefore capable of taming nature itself.
As a result of these myths, the authors said that much of the public has been “seduced into believing climate change is a rather mundane issue of corporate rationalisation”.
The CEO of one firm is quoted in the book as stating, “I’m going to be real frank about this. “We’re not doing this to save the planet – that’s not the driver. We’re industrialists.”
Professor Nyberg said the book states at its beginning that the future is bleak.
“But that isn’t to say we can’t make the future less bleak – and to do that we have to find alternatives to the capitalist narrative if we are to make sense of climate change.”