Relying on mighty corporations ‘to lead sustainability efforts is,’ writes Peter Dauvergne, ‘like trusting arsonists to be our firefighters.’ Big business may talk a good game these days: we hear much about corporate social responsibility and, on the face of things, significant measures are sometimes taken to stem the tide of environmental calamity. In the end, however, those businesses shoulder much of the responsibility for over-consumption and Dauvergne worries that their reassuring initiatives are often largely about savvy PR.
More efficient production and the reduction of waste are admirable goals, but they do not get to the heart of true, systemic sustainability which, for Dauvergne, orbits around social justice and the balancing of ecological and socio-economic needs. The great danger, Dauvergne opines, is that almost everyone (including governments, NGOs and academics) appears to be ‘nodding along’ with the ‘sweeping promises’ and the self-appointed role of big business in leading the charge against environmental decline. More and more, corporations have influence over the sustainability discourse and the ensuing rules and regulations.
Dauvergne concedes that not all big businesses are the same and he accepts that incremental change can do some good. But can we really trust corporations that, at their heart, are motivated by profit and reliant upon expansion? In answer to the question posed by his book’s title, Dauvergne concludes that big business will probably not destroy our world, at least not completely. Nuclear war or biological terrorism, he calculates, are more likely to do us in (small comfort), and self-interest will always help restrain corporate excess: no point in allowing the marketplace to disappear entirely through environmental catastrophe.
Still, this impassioned, often witty book forces us all to think long and hard about who we want running the sustainability show.
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