Asking an organization to change their production or service efforts to be less impactful on the pedosphere may take the most convincing when we bid them to address earth systems issues. Most industries and organizations are far removed from soil. Indeed, many raw materials may be directly sourced from the land (think about cotton for clothing manufacturing and trees for furniture manufacturing or construction); but the point in the industry where the big profit is made (selling the finished product or service) tends to happen indoors or in an urban setting. Soil health is one of the last things on people’s minds, whether they are the sellers or the consumers.
Up to this point, having business think about soil has asked them to be – yet again – less bad. As they pertain to industry and commerce, environmental regulations focus on contaminating soil as little as possible (rather than not contaminating at all) or remediating only to a certain point (but not all the way back to a pristine state), as with “archived” superfund sites (US EPA, 2011). Because of these rules, soil contamination is constantly in the back of organizations’ minds; it’s one of those things that always needs addressing, but not in a constructive way. There seems to be very little interest in proactively protecting the living and dynamic qualities of soil. There is even less interest in intentionally building up strong soils. Unfortunately, to many, dirt is dirt, and dirt is undesirable and disposable. Dirty dirt can be replaced – it can be found everywhere, after all.
So, how does soil become integral to profitable and productive economies? What about that Onceler, manufacturing his Thneeds? He only came to his senses once his business failed due to his abuse of his surroundings. Yet what if the Onceler had, voluntarily, investigated his company’s corporate social responsibility and tracked his actions over time? He may have started to understand the interconnectedness of the resource he depends upon. With time, perhaps the Onceler would have realized that adding positively to soil structure and nutrient levels would increase his Truffula tuft yield; trees might live longer and require less artificial care. Perhaps citizens living around his plant would have been more able to afford his Thneeds, as they didn’t have to spend money curing the illnesses that the discharged Gluppity Glup caused. Maybe healthy soil structure would mean less erosion, resulting in fewer road repairs and more efficient shipment of the Thneeds.
A comprehensive CSR report (or other similar sustainability self-examination) requires an organization to understand its place in the system. Realization and clarity generally do not happen overnight, but sustainability reporting is at least a gateway for businesses to begin recognizing their nestedness in the system of Planet Earth. That sort of self-discovery by organizations is going to be more sustainable, in the long run, than top-down regulations. As CSR reporting becomes more popular with profitable companies – and more demanded by consumers – hopefully it’s only a matter of time before those that manipulate our resources see more clearly the bonds between every single one of our natural systems and the vibrancy of our human systems. Lester Brown may disagree with the slow speed with which self-discovery will take place, but undoubtedly an organization will be more motivated to care for the ecosystem if it sees first hand how a healthy system benefits its business outcomes.
US EPA. (August 23, 2011). Why are some sites listed on CERCLIS eventually cleaned up and others not? Retrieved from: http://superfund.supportportal.com/link/portal/23002/23020/Article/24853/Why-are-some-sites-listed-on-CERCLIS-eventually-cleaned-up-and-others-not
AUNE MBA Candidate 2013